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In “Complex City,” Bethesda-Chevy Chase students document the stress that comes with teenage years

“Mom, I love you so much.”

“It’s a serious thing that people leave their backpacks outside to run.”

The two messages were part of a series of text messages that Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students sent to their parents last month during an hours-long lockdown due to a reported bomb threat. Although police later deemed it not credible, the incident — which included scenes of SWAT members swinging through the school — left some students in fear.

A group of students decided to do that capturing the experience in an exhibition, displaying it copies of text messages, revealing the fear – and in some cases desensitization – of students that day. In one exchange, a student is instructed by his parents to “keep texting,” to which he responds “I will,” and then, “I’m bored.”

The space was a late addition to a larger one project that approximately 200 B-CC anthropology and cultural studies students have been working on over the past school year to explore the varied – and often complex – pressures that come with being an adolescent today. One section focused on how gender influences the way teens think they should behave socially, and another section showed headlines about a range of controversies spinning Montgomery County school system.

“It’s our way of presenting our own experiences as teenagers – American teenagers – and bringing to light the contemporary issues we face in this demographic,” said Fernando Castro, a junior at B-CC. “Our goal is not just to talk about it. We want to take you through our experiences.”

“Complex City” was shown at B-CC in May. With no more classes this summer, the exhibit will soon be on display at American University and later be part of next year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, said David Lopilato, who along with another teacher, Angela Young, teach students at the project supervised.

For years, Lopilato’s lessons have described the pressures of being a teenager. In 2017, his students founded a ‘pop-up’ museum an empty restaurant in suburban Maryland that documented challenges – such as the college application process and exposure to binge drinking – through murals, performances and ceramic selfie sculptures. The Museum of the Contemporary American Teenager still coordinates events, and some of its contributors do are enrolled in the classes of Lopilato or Young.

This Last school year, students wanted to challenge the idea that their teenage experience is defined by anxiety caused by social media — an argument they read in a book called “The Anxious Generation” by Jonathan Haidt, Lopilato said, but found it “too simple.” teen culture.” That’s why they started building exhibitions under the theme ‘Complex City’.

“They treated it as a personal mission to show that there is a lot more to teens’ lives than just fear and even among the fears, there is also a lot more to fear than just social media and cell phones,” Lopilato said .

One exhibit, “Escape the Toxicity,” was a series of three rooms showcasing the stressors of being a teenager. In a, students made several headlines and posts on the DC Urban Moms blog about recent events surrounding their school district and high school that they said illustrated some of the pressures around them. One read, “Student found with pellet gun at Clarksburg High School,” and another, “Student arrested with guns at Albert Einstein HS, police say.”

During a recent tour of the project, Elana Bilbao, a 17-year-old junior in high school, opened a padlocked door for a second room with a maze made of neon string. Just like the first room, it was dimly lit, but instead of headlines, there goods phrases like “situationships” and “FOMO” are written in neon paint on the room’s paper walls. Bilbao explained that these statements are representative of the negative aspects of teen culture.

She He then peeled off the black paper, revealing a hole leading to a third room. The sunlit room was filled with photos — some dating from the 1970s — of lighter parts of high school, such as school dances and athletic events.

“Our main thing was that you have to go through the negative to see the positive,” Bilbao said about the design of the exhibition.

The project too other captured stressors that affect teens. A collage depicts the struggle to find a sense of belonging as a biracial person. Another functions a fake kiosk with papers hung with student interviews topics such as expressing your feelings as a boy or the concept of a ‘pick me’ girl – a girl who undermines other girls to appeal to boys. Some of them created videos and podcast episodes on the themes they wanted to explore.

Madeline Cortez, a sophomore, said students were shy to unpack the experience because she had a crush as a teenager and her teacher had to convince them to open up. If she listened to her classmates, she Said she realized that teens are often pushed aside because they are too immature to understand love, and because they don’t know enough about healthy relationships, they often end up in toxic situations.

Cortez decided to focus her contribution to the project on ‘limerence’, which she described as a one-sided obsession with another person without actually getting to know him or her. She heard the word for the first time The topic on TikTok stood out because “hallway crushes” are so common in high school. “You see one person once and maybe make eye contact with them, so the smallest amount of validation is like the craziest endorphins,” she said.

She made a painting image of a boy surrounded by a golden hue. On the right, a girl stares at him longingly, surrounded by shades of blue. The boy doesn’t notice the girl.

“It’s like the life is almost being sucked out of her,” Cortez explained, “like she’s losing her sense of self because of how much she thinks about that person.”

The teens say their goal with the art project is to better serve the public delve into the issues facing their demographic. They hope to recruit more teens from the DC area to contribute pieces ahead of the 2025 Folklife Festival.

“Policymakers are allowed to make assumptions about us because we don’t vote. So it’s like, ‘How can we make our voices heard?’” Castro said. “That’s what we actually want to do with this. We want to bring our experiences to life.”