Many years ago I was in the doctor’s office being prepped for a procedure that most older adults endure, not someone in their early 20s. The doctor was particularly chatty that day and asked what I did for a living. When I told him I taught junior high English, he harrumphed and said, “I’d rather pick up garbage.” I didn’t take it personally, but I know that many people would echo his sentiment. I, however, know I have the best job in the world – for me – and I’m richly blessed because of the people I spend my days with: teenagers. Mostly, because I can learn so much from them.
A quick web search will provide all the ‘evidence’ you need as why teenagers are devalued today. They are generalized to be moody, disrespectful, and mean. Teens take ridiculous risks and make poor decisions. However, an astute teen will point out that adults do this too. So why look at kids as foreign beings? Well, they can be hard to pin down sometime, but after spending the better part of 20 years enjoying their presence, I see incredible value in this age group.
For one, they have much to teach. Most times their unintentional lessons are lost on me, but when I look, I learn. For example, one of my students is rather immature for his age. He tries us most days but his peers seem to give him more grace than the adults in his life do. They’re understanding and welcoming and they overlook slights admirably. I can learn from that. Many times I’ve assigned a pet peeve essay. It’s a good topic because everyone seems to have a pet peeve, kids then write in their comfort zone – no research or heavy thinking required – and it does take some critical thinking skills. However, one student recently wrote a beautiful piece questioning why we should even have a peeve. Hhmmmm…he’s right! I’m inclined to peevery, but he advocated for being more patient with people and ourselves, thereby not having a peeve at all. I can learn from that.
Another way I see value in teens is their desire to have relationships with people. Children play and interact with others quite seamlessly but teens begin to discern and become introspective about who they ‘play’ with. Sure, I’ve seen many be exclusionary and I trust that they’ll someday move past that and be more inclusive of others. I’ve also seen others make choices that leave me in awe. I think of Jordan who was quite popular when I had him in 8th grade. He was what many people would consider the “total package.” Good at everything and popular with all, he stood out most when a teacher announced that they needed to choose partners. Those words are dreaded by a small population of kids in middle school. Jordan would ignore all the calls of his names and urgings of his friends and literally shake them off as he searched for the student who wasn’t picked. Male or female, he made his way over and asked if they’d be his partner. I can learn from that.
In addition to that example, teens desire a relationship with adults. Many adults would find that surprising but I know it’s true. Kids want to know us adults! They love to know little quirks about us and want to talk to us, especially if they know we like them and are on their side, but they feel a gap that stands invisibly between the two generations. To the rescue – Alex and Brett Harris who have been advocating for teens for a few years now on their website rebelution.com They’re all too aware of the teenager’s image and are showing off all the best in their generation while encouraging their peers at the same time. This site by teens and for teens is always inspiring for adults to read proving these kids are deep thinkers, have big hearts and care deeply about the world they’re about to inherit.
Clearly, I see lots of value in teenagers and I love them very much. They delight me and make me laugh. Their lightheartedness is so often just what I need to brighten my day. But what I value most about them is how much I can learn from them. God is gracious enough to leave something for me to teach them, but I’m their student too, and what a pleasure it is.