Thank you for the wonderfully positive response to my In Defense of Teenagers: Part 1 post about our school’s memorial walk last week. It was read nearly 4,000 times in 36 hours. I am honored to be so widely shared, and it was a great example to my students about the power of networking and the internet.
There is much censure of our youth in the media and in everyday conversation. They are labeled entitled, snowflakes, phone-addicted, and self-absorbed. After spending the better part of the last six years with teenagers, allow me to share some positive things about the upcoming generation.
Earlier this week, one of my students told the class that Starbucks got her drink order wrong. She emailed the company after she got to school, and they refunded her $10. While this is a small event, this represents teenagers who are willing to stand up for themselves.
“But Lizzy,” you ask, “isn’t that just selfish advocacy?”
Maybe, but more importantly, I’ve seen this young lady stand up for others, and she is not alone. We have a very active pro-life group at our school that travels to Washington, D.C. each January. Roughly 80 students (over 10% of the student body) march in the national March for Life. One of my seniors wrote an article for our local paper about this past January’s march.
Last year we had students, many of whom were minorities, who were feeling left out of the broader school community. They sought a dialogue with those in the school who did not understand their views, and who, they believed, were discounting them. They reached out to administration and held a Town Hall meeting in the auditorium to give students a chance to speak about their experiences and share with each other in a respectful environment.
From that meeting came the forming of a student group, dubbed Students for Social Change, that meets weekly in a teacher’s classroom during lunch to discuss social issues. This same group planned the memorial walk to the Parkland shooting victims, and they allowed me to share their words in my last post. Another senior blogged about the day, and shared these words, responding to social media’s accusations that they were sheep just trying to miss class:
My generation is not ignorant. We are not being manipulated or used. We are not being trendy or doing things for social media. We are informing ourselves of the issues that face us. We are forming our own opinions. We are a generation of youth that will not be silenced. We are taking a stand to remember those that have lost their lives to school violence, and to prevent any other lives from being lost.
Shortly after I started teaching at my current high school, I started finding these sweet little notes in places around my classroom. Watercolor on card stock, they depicted encouragements and Bible verses. They turned out to be the love language of one of my freshmen, who continues to do these quiet little acts of kindness.
I have students who go out of their way to thank me after a good lesson. Most weeks we have students who write and lead devotions during our morning PA announcements. At the end of each school year, members of the senior class are nominated for the “Barnabas Award,” named after the New Testament disciple Barnabas who encouraged others in their missionary journeys. Sometimes students sneak into empty classrooms to write cheery messages on the whiteboard. They encourage me every day to come to work and do my best, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know my own work is appreciated.
Do my kids use their phones too much? Probably. But unlike my generation, who collected MySpace and Facebook friends like baseball cards (it didn’t matter if we knew them or not), most of my students use social media apps as an extension of their face-to-face relationships, NOT as a replacement.
Many have replaced texting with Snapchat, and actually record video messages to send to each other. They Facetime instead of voice call, so they regularly see and interpret MORE facial expressions rather than fewer. Most of the time, their Snapchat streaks are with someone they see every day at school.
Beyond this, I have amazingly deep conversations with students both inside and outside the classroom. I find them more willing than many adults to address “taboo” subjects, mostly because they still have the childhood naivete to not know what should be off-limits. They don’t have all the answers (even when they sometimes THINK they do), but they appreciate being heard and are often very willing to listen if they are given the same courtesy. I find my students to be generally honest, curious, and unashamed to share their points of view.
|A silent post-it note discussion from an AP class
Thursday and Friday we discussed Plato’s “Allegory of a Cave” from his Republic in my AP English class, and paired it with a NYT editorial about the nature of addiction. The conversation was thoughtful and resonant. My class has also featured entirely student-led discussions through Socratic Circles, and I know teachers who often have students teach the class as part of their curriculum. This is by no means a generation who only knows how to tweet.
This is an incredibly creative generation! My AP students have been blogging since January, and the results are so fun to read. They decorate each others’ lockers and design elaborate hallway decorations for Homecoming. I have students who created their own landscaping companies, bullet journals, and podcasts. They direct plays and music, make memes, record comedy shorts, and lead pep rallies. They act and they sing and they write and they paint. In short, they revel in God’s creation and add beauty to it wherever they can.
|A classroom covered in student quotes, a bullet journal, and student mission statements
|A birthday locker outside my classroom
My students volunteer at hospitals, animal shelters, soup kitchens, and elementary schools. When I help my kids create resumes each year, I see them add things I never knew they did: quietly traveling around the world on mission trips, helping elderly neighbors, or volunteering on political campaigns. They hold open doors, and help me unload my car. One young lady at my church holds Little Miss for me during much of the service to allow me time to worship. This generation knows there is suffering in the world, and they want to help. Our school’s theme this year is “United in Service…with Christ at the Center.” I believe my teens take this to heart every day.
THEY MAKE MISTAKES
Just like adults, teenagers aren’t perfect. Their brains aren’t fully developed, and they sometimes act impulsively and irrationally. I deal with plagiarism. Kids leave messes, and cuss when they think I can’t hear. They hurt each other, both in person and online. Sometimes their actions are more serious: they drink, get arrested, or get pregnant. We live in a sinful world, and high schoolers are just beginning to develop adult skills that come with adult responsibilities. Their actions come with consequences.
Rarely, however, have I seen students who make mistakes who are not – eventually – willing to make amends. This week, one student who has struggled a lot this year came to me and said this:
I realized this weekend that a lot of my problems this year were caused by my own choices.
This is indicative of the maturing process I see every day. Often it is painful, and people get hurt, but they grow. They accept consequences, and they try to improve. Thanks be to God for forgiveness and grace!
Girls still doodle their boyfriend’s names on notebooks, and when their first breakup hits, they feel like their hearts have been broken like they never have before – because their hearts never have been broken before.
Sometimes adults attribute this to too much drama over “puppy love,” but I assure you my students feel deeply, and love fiercely. They love their friends, family, teams, school, town, and God. Never discount the emotional strength of a teenager. Their reasoning may not be fully developed, but their emotional centers are. Remember, Romeo and Juliet were only teens – impulsive, yes, but they felt deeply!
|Some of my students with Little Miss during my maternity leave last spring
One of my mentor teachers tells me often that it is much more important that my students leave school each day knowing they are loved – not that they can analyze Plato. I hope my students know how deeply I care about them, but I also feel and see love from them every day.
If you have teens in your life, love on them. Tell them you care as often as possible. Not because they are fragile (though often they are). Not because you worry about their self esteem. Love them because they are children of God, and are therefore loved by God. We tell them they are the Future, but we, and they, are also the Now. We are not promised tomorrow or the next day, so instead of bashing iGen on Twitter, hug your teenager instead – it shows you care, and bonus, it might also embarrass them.