I have never wanted to be a brain surgeon or an air-traffic controller. These two jobs encompass everything that keeps me awake at night: correct decisions under extreme pressure – with life altering consequences. When a colleague recently asked me about my “worst possible” occupation, that was the answer I gave. Their response was unexpected.
“But we’re teachers. Correct decisions under extreme pressure every minute … with life-altering consequences – that sounds very much like what we do every day,” she said.
“But nobody will die,” I said. “No matter how much we mess up, nobody will bleed to death or be blown out of the sky.”
But it got me thinking. Not many people want to do what we do every day and maybe for them, facing teenagers and all that comes with it, would cause them night sweats and terror-filled sleep.
Teens have never been high on the list of popular age groups in society. It’s nothing new. They’re apparently all “moody”, “disrespectful”, “lazy”, “self-absorbed”, “unmotivated” and “dishonest” – observations made since the beginning of time, no doubt. Throw in screen addiction and lack of resilience and you’ve a more recent damning report.
When people are dismayed at the youth, it’s worth thinking about where their perception might come from. Is it the way teens are seen moving around malls in swirls of loudness? Is it perhaps the ripped jeans, inked skin and bared midriffs? Maybe it’s the newspaper headlines related to gender and sexuality which make us doubt pronouns and definitions? Is it their monosyllabic grunting? Maybe the environment within which most people meet teenagers is the “wrong” one.
Many people might think that a place like school would be the worst environment to come across teenagers – a place which is traditionally known to stifle creativity, put people into boxes and enforce rules. I find it to be the complete opposite. Teenagers may be a bit rough around the edges. But isn’t a piece of roughly sanded wood more likely to absorb the varnish? Though the answers to a million questions are at their fingertips through Google, I am still amazed how receptive teenagers are to the “human way” that information is shared. While many adults will only listen to respond, teenagers I know absolutely love a story told by a real person. I am in awe of their creativity – art, poetry, problem-solving, social insights and grabbing opportunities to try their hand at all sorts.
Their humour is still developing; they’re not entirely sure of their position on fundamental issues and so will listen to others; they feel the world still has a chance and that goodness does exist, however hidden. I see many teens every week committing hours to animal rescue; mentoring younger ones; tutoring their peers who are struggling; offering help and hanging about after school just to chat with me.
As adults, we are often the ones to bring negativity. Let’s rather celebrate the unjaded part of our community – the youth.