Saturday, November 24, 2007

Misspent Youth

I spend my days in teenage America, and I enjoy their company. The teens I'm with are an admittedly elite crowd ----- prep school students ----- and I'm always surprised when I see teens misbehaving or otherwise seeming threatening, because that's not really the behavior of the teenagers with whom I'm acquainted.

But many teens do seem threatening, even for those of us who routinely look beyond the whacked out haircuts, skimpy clothes, multiple piercings and such. In fact, I often find myself asking (rhetorically, of course), "where are their parents?" I did not have a misspent youth; mostly I didn't think of mis-spending my youth because my parents had rules and expectations and I didn't want to disappoint them or the other adults in my life. Within limits, they treated me like the adult that I was becoming. Within limits, I behaved myself (we'll just go ahead and forget about those times I ditched class in the 12th grade). I cut up in college, of course, but I generally avoided big trouble. The prompt "misspent youth" from Sunday Scribblings has set me to thinking about how it is that young people successfully transition to adulthood.

Now that I am with teens all the time, I see the need that young people have to be rebellious. How else is a teen to establish a sense of sovereignty but to draw boundaries ---- both stark and small---- between the lives of her parents and her own burgeoning independence? I want to be sure that the young people I know can exercise their independence in a way that gives them freedom without courting danger (or at least not too much danger). I want them to appreciate the adults in their lives, not rebel against them just for the sake of rebelling.

For that reason, I treat my students seriously. Their hopes and dreams must be given succor, not dismissed or laughed at. The adults in my world who took me seriously ensured that I took myself seriously as I made the transition to adulthood. And now I'm doing my part to keep that cycle going, so that the teenagers in my world find that I give them the room to maneuver and express their independence. I want them to safely express their youth, and to take the risks that lead to a happy adulthood.


tumblewords said...

What a wise person you are! Those kids are lucky to have you around and will remember you with honor when they are Sunday Scribbling some decades down the road.

It's just me... said...

In college I took a class on adolescent development. The class was required for my major, but being so intrigued by child and infant development I dreaded having to take a class about teenagers! Seriously - aren't they just a bunch of brats? At least that is what I thought. How wrong I was as I learned about their own trial and error processes, their need for boundary setting, and the desire to figure it all out. Kudos to your post and to your admiration for people in what are some of the hardest years in life!

J.Bro said...

Missy and I made a tough decision last fall to become guardians for her then 16 year-old (now 18) sister. She had been living in neglect with her father, and we gave her a stable place to live, expectations of a future, and a shot at college. It's immensely frustrating about 80% of the time - from small things like routinely using up all of our cell minutes by the 15th of the month, to big things like sneaking out of the house at 3 a.m. to meet a 35 year-old man in the parking lot. But at the end of the day, I think she appreciates be able to rely on the kind of stability and structure you mention. And if nothing else, my own daughter will have no new tricks to pull when she's 17.

rachelle said...

thank you for your perspective. we work on opposite ends of the spectrum, but have the exact same goals. it's amazing how all a kid needs is an example and someone who believes in them. thanks again.