From the vantage point of having two teenagers and one pre-teen I have to say that, at this juncture, life seems a little unfair to them. But first, let me tell you a story.
I went for a run yesterday evening and soaked in the glory of the sunset and marvelled at how all the farm fields that had crops taller than I only last week were now all shaved down to just a few inches. I had a favourite podcast blaring in my ears and challenging me in all sorts of ways. As I looped around and back I passed a small grocery store and decided to pop in for a few treats for the boys. It was only a ten minute walk to home from here so I carried the small bag of groceries and briskly walked along the sidewalk feeling the ache of muscles well worked.
As I was walking along the SIDEWALK I got that sense that someone was behind me so I turned around to see someone RIGHT behind me. On a bike. Going fast. I let out a scream and we did the dance of I’m going this way, no you’re going this way, I’ll go that and then it happened. The teenager on a bmx took me out with his bike. I stumbled and caught myself and grabbed my arm where his handle scraped along it and I sputtered out an, “Oof, I’m sorry.” Because I’m Canadian and this is what we do. We apologize for things not worthy of apologies and have been known to say we’re sorry to a lamp post should we bump into it. (guilty.)
Then, in a matter of one second flat I surveyed the situation. The situation being that I was walking along the sidewalk and got smashed into by a teenager on a BMX when there was a bike lane RIGHT BESIDE ME! The situation being that I, who was walking along the sidewalk and had no idea who was coming up behind me, apologized to the teenager on a BMX who was riding on the sidewalk and came up so close behind me that he smashed right into me. The situation being that the teenager said nothing and just drove on his merry way.
As I took stock of all of that, I realized I had no reason to apologize and so I yelled out, “NO, ACTUALLY I’M NOT SORRY! RIDE IN THE BIKE LANE!!”
I’m sure to him I’m a geriatric lady who is getting all in a fuss about nothing. I remember being a teenager.
So when I look at my teenagers I fear that the world has already unfairly judged them by the standards of the lowest form of teenager. I fear that the world will look at them with eyes that see them as the ones who leave garbage all over the skate park and graffiti the walls of the local schools. I fear that the world will see their size and assume their age and know that they’re the ones who talk filthy and make rude jokes and are probably selling drugs at school. I fear that the world won’t know how to engage them simply because they’re teens. Because they sometimes seem like they’re on another planet when they talk of movies they’ve watched or video games they play.
We talk often in our family about changing the stereotypes. About being different than people will assume you to be. About being a teenager who can smile a friendly smile and say hi when you pass someone on the street instead of making people wish they would have crossed to the other side before they neared you.
We talk of the things they love. How skateboarding and snowboarding have long been viewed as rebellious sports and having a lifestyle immersed in both often looks like lots of drugs and alcohol and girls. But that doesn’t mean that it has to. It does mean that people may see them with a skateboard and assume they’re like that though, a thought that is frustrating and sad to me.
Teenagers get a bad rep with good reason. There are a lot of confused and curious teenagers out there who are pushing every boundary that could be pushed and trying new things and ending up in bad places. But for every one of those there are a lot of fun loving and kind teenagers who care about others and start new charities and respect their teachers and work hard at getting good grades.
Of course, we’re only a few years into the teenage years and maybe one day my boys will deserve to be painted with the ‘horrible teenager’ brush but until they’re there I wish the world could look through eyes that see human and not simply teenager. That the world could see that this is a person who is living life the best way they know how given the resources they have and even if they have a ring in their eyebrow and a bit too much make up on their face it’s only because they haven’t learned that less is more yet and instead of judging their character based on that we would give them a chance to prove themselves before we make up our minds.
I hope we don’t lump all teens into a category that is far from fair. I hope we seek rather to engage them, listen to them and guide them…..right on into the BIKE LANE!!!