My 16-year-old daughter owns two hungry geckos. One afternoon on our way home, she realized she needed crickets. I stopped at the pet store, handed her my credit card, and off she went. She came back with a frown. The adult pet store worker had given her a hard time for no apparent reason. This respectful and unassuming teen said she’s been treated the same in other places. She thought the reason for the treatment was due to her age.
I thought about all the youth trying to make their way in the world. Adults want them to be more responsible, take on challenges, and do hard things. Oftentimes, unfortunately, youth answer that call only to experience adults’ suspicion and contempt. When teens are mentioned, adults often respond with deep sighs, looks of disdain, or some horrific experience. I get it. The teen years aren’t easy… but they aren’t monsters! Teenagers are whole human beings, no less whole than when they were infants or when they eventually reach retirement. Sadly, traumatic events in their first eighteen years can create adverse behaviors we adults deem offensive and less than human. What’s amazing is that trusted adults can improve resilience (protective factors), thus improving a youth’s circumstances and maybe even their behavior albeit a little at a time.
I challenge adults to give youth a chance. Think of them as valuable, future adults. Remind them of their worth as people and raise expectations for youth in your charge. Remind them that one day, they will be adults with the power of influence. Challenge them with tasks they can successfully accomplish. When spotting teens out in the community, offer sincere encouragement.
Any adult can become a significant and positive influence in a youth’s life. They typically don’t pursue adults; adults must intentionally pursue them. Don’t be a stereotypical teenager “hater.” Go after teens to help build in them what is wholesome and worthy. Most likely, they’ll thank you later and follow your example—an example that could endure through generations. Imagine that!