Whenever I mention that I have three teenagers and one on the precipice, I tend to get responses like, “Whoa” and “Good luck with that” and “Better you than me.”
It surprises me, really, this attitude toward today’s teenagers. I’ve heard and read it over and over again:
They think they’re special snowflakes.
They’re so connected online that they’re unable to connect in person.
They’ll never make it in the working world.
They have no outward focus. (Selfies, anyone?)
I hear horror stories of drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, and I think… really? How are these issues new? Back in 1988, those things were in full-swing. I’d venture to guess that they were around prior to the 1980s as well.
Every generation of teenagers has engaged in risky, boundary-pushing behavior. And every generation, too, has been unfairly maligned at times.
But I’ll tell you what: I love this season’s teenagers. I love my kids’ friends and classmates. I think they are phenomenally bright, inquisitive, worldly, fun, and witty. Nothing makes me happier than having a house full of loud, obnoxious, pizza-eating, video-game-playing teenagers.
These kids are bursting with energy and ideas and opinions and spot-on comedic timing. They compete in writing contests, attend music camps, and qualify for national speech and debate competitions. They trade books and passionately discuss plot lines. They are athletes, scholars, dancers, artists, and accomplished musicians.
They are pure potential.
They never enter my house without saying hello and striking up a conversation. They never leave without saying thank you.
Do they text all the time? Sure they do. Did I write notes 24/7 when I was in high school? You bet. (Their way seems a heck of a lot more efficient than mine.)
Do they spend their time making pointless Vine videos? Only hilarious ones. And I can still vividly recall riding around Greenfield in the Falcon with a VHS camera and a gaggle of girlfriends.
Do they take selfies and post them on Instagram? Yes. Did we labor in front of our Clairol light-up mirrors, diligently applying a vat of blue eye shadow and Aqua Net? If we had the technology to snap ourselves post-primp, I’m certain we would have.
Are they moody and unpredictable? Of course. Their cerebral cortexes are still forming. That’s the way nature has always worked.
Are they connected to their digital devices all the time? Yes, they are. But every teenager I know is both technologically savvy and engaging in person. They’re straddlers, this crew. They easily navigate their digital nativeness as well as the “real world.”
And while we’re talking about the “real world,” I must add this: today’s reality — social media, online engagement, iPhones, music downloads — is their real world. It’s what they know. It’s all they’ve ever known. And they’re going to forge a future full of possibilities based on all the technological advances they’ve been privy to.
Like all the generations before them, today’s teens sometimes get a bad rap. But I’ll say this for the ones I know: they’re bright, they’re connected, they’re globally aware, they’re socially engaged, they’re fiercely loyal, and they’re wicked smart.
Differences in the way we operate, differences in who we are, differences in our belief systems, differences in how we navigate the world — these things shouldn’t be scary. They’re exciting. They should be embraced and nurtured and encouraged. And we adults should be leading that charge — not with pearl-clutching and worry and device banning and fear of the unknown — but with awareness, balance, a gentle hand, a watchful eye, and an offer to help when they stumble (which of course, they will… because: human).
Let’s not lead with with cries of “back in my day…” but with inquiries of “how do you do it?”
Let’s seek to understand before we strive to be understood.
These kids have a lot to teach us if we’re willing to learn. And I, for one, am excited about the wisdom and the passion they bring to the game.
Come on over to our house, teenagers. We’ll provide the pizza, and you can teach me all about Google+ and YouTube. Then we’ll take a selfie. (You can Photoshop my wrinkles out, right?)