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.