x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A side of teenagers that some adults don't see

Although we may seem self-centred and greedy, there's some good in all of us.

Funnily enough, mum and dad never seem thrilled when faced with the prospect of me hosting a sleepover. Having to play the taxi driver all weekend long, ferrying me to a million activities, they reason, is a headache enough without a gaggle of noisy teenagers descending upon the house and wrecking it. Of course we can tend to be a little more selfish and raucous than an older generation would like - that's what the word teenager means - but I know quite a few people my age who are much more caring than some would imagine.

Perhaps the parents have a reason to think us all bad - although they exaggerate it to unacceptable levels. Last time a friend arrived for a sleepover, clutching a massive Juicy Couture bag, Mum made the mistake of telling her to "give me a shout if you need anything". This was presuming that, given the size of her bag, the friend was equipped with everything she needed for a good night's stay, and would only be seen fleetingly and not heard, allowing mum to sleep away the evening.

Poor Mum's words were taken a bit too literally. The friend emptied her bag to reveal numerous lotions, skin creams, make-up, empty nail polish bottles, hair serum, a straightener and a tracksuit - everything but normal night-things. After sending Dad to the supermarket for a toothbrush, she turned round eyes on Mum and asked if she could help her with her hair (I had flatly refused to sort out her tangles for her). She turned the music up a little too loud and proceeded to bounce up and down and sing along (I use the term "sing" loosely) while Mum struggled to keep level with her head.

In the middle of the night, my friend realised that her tracksuit was too itchy and woke everyone up to obtain a slightly more comfy - and much less expensive - set of clothes. She rounded it all off by setting off an eyeshadow explosion in the bathroom in the morning. I've noticed Mum doesn't tell people to "come again" any more, like she did when I was younger. Maybe it's no wonder that, based on a couple of unlucky specimens I usually choose as friends, the world has an increasingly warped view of us. Hey, not only is shopping actually extremely important, but there are those of us who do their bit for the world and never sleep without having done their good deed of the day. (Which would be me, Mum wishes.)

My friend Matt has signed up for a Best Buddies programme, in which teenagers are paired up with a young person with special needs, and try to make their lives as normal as possible. This involves giving up your free time to play football with them or taking them to see a movie just as you would any other friend. Teenagers do all this without getting back anything but an intensely rewarding experience.

I was extremely disbelieving when Matt announced that this was voluntary. He is usually competitive and spends most of his time playing squash and basketball or skiing, so I was surprised to hear that he had made time for community service. His goal in life is to make lots of money when he grows up (yes, I hear you thinking: "Kids today"). However, this made it all the more startling. People often don't realise that, although we teenagers may seem self-centred and greedy, there's some good in us after all.

Watching a Best Buddies footie session was heartwarming; the "buddies" on the pitch as well as the children's families on the sidelines hollered a regular stream of encouragement as the young people passed the ball along. Only someone who was watching very carefully could tell that some of the players' foot-eye coordination was not perfect, but the general spirit on the field was one of happiness and camaraderie. What struck me most was that none of the buddies was in the least condescending.

They played a fair game, and all because of people my age who were not simply interested in deciding which party they should attend on Friday night, but also keen to help others. Sometimes I think I'm not doing enough, especially if we are to fight the stereotype of teenagers as a boisterous, frivolous lot. But then I sneak a peek at myself in the mirror, and am forced to admit that there are more significant things to think about in life, like pursuading my folks to cough up enough money for a nose job in a few years' time.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.