Teenagers are opportunities not liabilities.

As long as there have been adolescence, there have been negative behaviors associated with it.  While not an excuse, it is a reality that exists.  The current video phenomenon of teens video taping themselves thrashing stores, is just the latest version of the same old story.  The video I posted here is a report from ABC News on this new problem.– Teens Thrashing Stores (ABC News)  So, if you haven’t seen it or heard about it, you can watch it there.

I agree that their behavior is unacceptable on a number of levels.  They are disrespecting the stores, employees, other shoppers and making a bad name for teenagers everywhere.  Without a doubt they should be punished for their actions according to the law. I say that as a disclaimer because I want to redirect a few of the comments made by the news reporters in this piece.

It seems that whenever there are stories about teenagers doing something wrong, that the media then takes it and broadly paints a picture of some sort of teen behavioral epidemic.  They automatically assume that the teen mind is one that no one will ever understand and all we can do is just hang on and hope they turn out alright.  Well, I disagree with that wholeheartedly.  Why would we take a hands off approach to a segment of our culture that very much needs us to be hands on?   This story is an example of some teenagers who did wrong.  That in no way indicates that every teenager has done, or will do this same thing. Instead of making statements like that, it would be much more productive for adults to figure out ways to meaningfully engage teens in something of value.

In my work with teenagers I have found that their immaturity gets them into trouble and also makes them teachable.  There are some incredibly gifted teenagers who are making a difference in the lives of people around them.  Some of them are out serving their communities and leading younger kids in mentoring relationships.  Others are investing their time in causes that they are passionate about.  The key ingredient to these people are positive adult input in their lives. If parents, teachers or youth leaders have real involvement in the lives of these young people, I believe it would make a huge difference and potentially eliminate some of these scenarios.

Each person has potential and wants to find a place for that potential to be realized.  In those tumultuous middle school and high school years they are so vulnerable to peer pressure as they try to figure that out.  This can be an opportunity for them to navigate, if instead of throwing up their hands in confusion, they made an effort to authentically understand them.

When I was in college I drove school bus.  The bus they gave me was full with a history of being rowdy; it lived up to its reputation.  There was one kid who was the obvious ring leader and I started making an effort to talk to this kid.  I would ask him about his day, what he liked to do and just have a conversation with him to help him see that I was not just some random adult in his life, but one that actually cared for him. He was a tough kid who was far larger than I was.  In fact, he surprised me one day when he got out his switch blade knife to free a window that was stuck.  All that aside, he was a really amazing kid that just had a rough family life.  I came to realize that many people in his life had simply written him off as a nobody. But, with my simple investment in him,  it didn’t take long for the bus to become far less tense and much more controlled.  Once he started opening up to me it started other kids doing the same thing.

He graduated and I forgot about him for a while.  One day I was in my bus waiting at the high school and out of the corner of my eye I saw him.  At that moment, he saw me and  he came running over to talk with me.  He gave me one of those manly hugs and told me about how he was enrolling in classes for engineering and that he was finally getting his driver’s license.  He just wanted to let me know that he was really making an effort.  I told him I was really happy to hear that and I wished him the best.  He then left and I never ran into him again.    I know I was not the only adult in his life, all I am saying is that with a little effort we can actually engage these teenagers in conversation.  With a little openness, we can actually influence their lives in a positive way.

When society continues to cast teens as a horrible, hard to understand, rebellious group of punks, then an opportunity has been squandered.  Then people wonder why they rebel against adults in their life.

Let’s not marginalize this group of people, but look for ways to invest in their lives.  They truly are a blessing to work with, if you just take the time to care for them.

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10 comments

  1. Indeed! It isn’t easy to work with teens, but it is well worth it. They need mentors, good examples and things to do that won’t get them in trouble. I am glad to see you encouraging adults to step up and find solutions. I know in my younger days, our church did things like have skating parties, get togethers with other church youth, and more. We also had a youth hall type place where any kid could come and play pool, ping pong, etc. and eat some hot dogs. It was awesome. Not putting down any youth workers because I know how hard they work to engage the youth. But they should not be the only ones.

    1. Youth workers are not the only ones that should care, that is exactly the point. It isn’t easy to work with teens, but is it really easy to work with adults? — I guess we all have our issues, don’t we.

  2. I’m a teenager and I agree with you. The world sees us as something to tolerate and not to mentor! I know I’m not the perfect teenager and I have a lot to work on, but I know that when people actually take the time to encourage me to be different, and be a light in this dark world. It makes me want to keep shinning Jesus’ light. No expectations for teenagers today are having nasty results. The world tells us to do what feels good in the moment and not think about the future because we are young, I think you are spot on that my generation needs mentors, people to hold us to higher standards than just parties on the weekends!

    1. I often encourage teens not to be what the world wants them to be. You are right the message is, “oh well, you are young and that is what people your age do.” I think we as a society can do better than that. Thank you for validating my point as a teenager. If you would have said, “no, stay away” than I might have had to issue a retraction. 🙂

  3. Teens are an opportunity … and like all of us are looking for their “fit” and the “why” they exist … of course we know where that answer lies … but in the meantime, being a positive, caring adult in their lives (as in the lives of all we meet) someday may allow a door to open into their worlds and into their hearts … which is what you obviously did for this boy/man … well done and blessings …

    1. I talked with some teenagers about this over the weekend. They are frustrated that they are put into the category of rebellious teenager when they really aren’t doing those things. I am thankful I get to be a part of the process in their lives, as hard as it is.

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