August 12, 2012

Teenagers are Amazing. Stop Judging Them so Harshly have always loved teenagers.  Everyone tells me that will change when I have my own.  So far we are doing okay but we are only a month into the official teen years.  People told me to hate two year olds and I did not.  I actually found two to be a magical and interesting year for my children.  I will go into the teen years positively and take it as it comes. 

My own teenagers are not the motivation for this post, teenagers in general are.  I thoroughly enjoy teenagers and I am at a loss as to why more people do not enjoy them as well.  Sure they are loud and at times rude and rambunctious but they are always interesting.  Teens are fascinating as they learn to navigate the world around them as themselves and not as who their parents told them to be. The teenage mind is interesting to watch a problem and see their creative ways through difficulties.  Yes they can be impulsive but often that is because we allow excuses for them to fall back on. 

For anyone who thinks they dislike teenagers I challenge you to get to know some teens.  Really get to know them and ask them about their interests, joys and hardships.  Learn about how they balance school, work, sports and friendships.  Ask about their goals and dreams and how they plan to get there. 

I always tell people my favorite age people are 15-22.  So much happens in those years.  The mind is developing, strategizing, understanding, negotiating, and it is amazing to witness that process.  Conversations, debates, and discussions are very rich with individuals in this age group.  Opinions alternate between firm, fluid, unsure and firm again.  People in this age range are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this world is, what this world is all about and what it really should be like.  They love to engage on issues of religion, politics, sexuality, money and all the world's biggest issues and questions.  Adults are foolish to not engage and learn from them and help teens and young adults learn from them and see the world from other perspectives. 

I am a tutor.  I primarily work with teenagers on their study skills and their ACT test prep.  The first question I ask them is what sports or musical instruments they have played.  I ask about their favorite movies, music, books and video games.  I work hard to find connection points with each of my students and to help them feel comfortable with me.  The only part I dislike about my job is that when I am successful I work myself out of it.  When my students succeed they stop working with me and I miss getting to know them and see their success and journey. 

I watch other adults look at teenagers with disgust or cross a street to avoid them and I am saddened.  Our culture needs more cross generational relationships and the adults in this culture are doing little to connect with the teenagers and young adults and be active parts of their lives.  If I was a teen receiving looks from adults like I observe I would not want relationships with adults and I would likely continue behaviors that were repelling the adults. 

Our home school group meets at the beach every week.  Several times this summer I set up in the middle of the high school/college zone.  It was interesting to see how the teens served as "adult repellent" with no other adults wanting to be anywhere near them.  Yes they smoked, yes many of them swore, yes they gave me incredulous looks at first.  A strange thing happened though after I smiled, returned a football that landed at my feet and they realized I was not going away.  They spoke to me, they smiled, they seemed to have cleaned up their language some and even spoke a little softer.  I did not ask them to, I did not encourage them to, I did not even really interact with them. 

I work with many teenagers and every one of them is unique and interesting.  They are totally amazing and special people.  They are polite, kind and engaging.  They just want people to treat them with respect and kindness.  They want people to believe in them, build them up, support and encourage them.  They don't want to be talked down to, belittled, or prejudged.   They care burdens and walk hard paths.  They want to do hard things, be challenged and will respond to the opportunities laid before them. 

In all of my years of teaching and tutoring I have learned you always teach up.  Students long to be recognized, they long to have someone notice the specialness within them and help bring it out.  Students will always rise to the challenge when encouraged and supported.  I still believe Aristotle was right and work hard to help all my students realize I am only helping them discover what they themselves already knew.  It is not about the teacher, it is the student who knew and just needed a little help getting it out of themselves.

Teenagers want the adults in this world to realize they are just as capable and hard working as fellow adults.  Teenagers want to be treated like adults but also be given some breathing room to be allowed to make mistakes and screw up along the way, they are still learning.  Treat teens with respect and you will be amazed at the results.  You will meet some really interesting and amazing people along the way. 

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