All too often we hear people comment about how awful they think teenagers are. As a future high school English teacher, I know this reality all too well. Whenever I mention my chosen career path, the first thing I hear is, “Why would you want to do that to yourself?” People always talk about how they could never work with teenagers, especially for so many hours a day. Many people will say teenagers are “stupid”, and “rude” and I look at them in awe.
This idea is so pervasive that my own students often ask me, “Ms. Wilson, why do you want to be a teacher?” These kids have been told so many times that they are are not worth anyone’s time that they believe it. They honestly do not understand how I could view them as important enough to be taken seriously.
People often talk about teenagers as if they were never teenagers themselves. Everyone made stupid mistakes in their teenage years, and we continue to make stupid mistakes as adults. People often want to talk about how teenagers do not understand what the “real world” is like. These same people are often guilty of saying this without knowing the numerous hardships that teenagers go through every day.
During my teaching internships, I have met teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes. I have met teenagers whose parents are abusing them. I have met teenagers who have lost a parent. These are all hardships which are the reality for so many teens. Yet, even if teens are not dealing with such serious hardships, they should be allowed to have bad days and receive compassion without judgement.
Teenagers are in the real world as much as any of us. They should not be condemned for acting exactly like what they are, teenagers. They are stuck between childhood and adulthood. They are expected to take on more responsibility and act like adults, but they are not allowed to go to the bathroom when they want. They are expected to choose a career path before they’re fully developed, but are often not taken seriously enough to even speak their mind.
The teenage years are, arguably, the time when many of us make the most mistakes, try the most new things, and learn the most about ourselves. They are not perfect, and they are still figuring many things out, but we are constantly figuring out who we are for our entire lives. Teenagers just aren’t as good at hiding it.
Much like the rest of the population, teenagers want to do their best to please their teachers, parents and family. All any of us can do is try our best. That is all we should be expecting of these teens. It is time we stop expecting teenagers to be something they are not and start appreciating them for what they are, which is a group of humans who are simply trying to survive, much like their adult counterparts.
The best approach to take with teenagers is understanding. They do not wake up in the morning wondering whose day they can ruin. They are not out to get anyone. They are just trying to get by like everyone else. When given the understanding, care, and attention they need, it becomes obvious that teenagers are just as capable as anyone else.
I love teaching, and I love my students. They are kind, funny, intelligent and strong people. Some of them have endured things I could never even imagine and still walk into class every day with a smile on their faces. They are people, and I do not expect them to be perfect. Even with their many flaws, I adore those kids, and I am so lucky to have the privilege to work with them, learn from them and know them. I think teaching them makes me a better person, and I only hope that they find something to learn from me as well.