In a city, it’s not unusual to find oneself in the company of a gaggle of teens. On public transportation, at a sports game, in line at a popular ice cream haunt. Shouting opinions, selling raffles, engaged in chases-around-the-table. Their young voices make my ears stand to attention and I can easily be transported back to my years at that age. I feel a bristling sense of anticipation. To myself I wonder, will these “kids” taunt, ignore, or spy me with narrowed eyes? Am I safe among them?
Recent reading has led me to consider how I’ve been trained to be afraid of teenagers. Their sharpness and unpredictability. Their power. Their violence. In fiction and through media, we hoist them as ideals, but sometimes the reality sees us closing our doors, ears, and hearts. People mutter in person and on-paper: the world is going to pot largely because the youth are un or under-prepared (to rescue us.)
Once I was on the MBTA and some loud teens at the end of the Orange Line car did what kids do when unchaperoned. Although I felt that familiar prickle of possible danger, I talked myself into just listening. I reinterpreted the shouting and goofing around to uncover creativity and curiosity. Their observations about one another were frank, smart, and revealing.
Despite having been a teen myself, I’m accustomed to stereotyping and reducing them to “trouble.” These keepers of our stories and traditions who translate technology into culture, who are neither our destroyers nor our saviors.
To be fair to these important people, I realized that I needed to address not only my past fears and failures of being one among them, but also the legacy of oppressions that dictate how I view young people now. I needed to learn how not to be afraid of teenagers.
Three non-exact strategies:
- Remember: What was it like to be a teen?
- Review: What have I learned from my family, friends, culture, and nation about being a teen and how to treat people that age?
- Renew: The cracked lens through which I view and interact with young people . . . repair it! Accept that I won’t always get things “right.” See my failures and successes through with gratitude.