03 May 2009

Teenagers are people too

Teenagers get a lot of bad press. They're always destroying stuff and stealing stuff. They're too loud. They're obnoxious.

Well, for the past three days, I hung out with about 300 teenagers at DramaFest. And, except for the loud and obnoxious part, I didn't see the frightening creatures the media would have us believe they are; I saw 300 of the best teenagers in the world. I don't even count the loud, obnoxious part, since I'm just as loud and obnoxious as any of them. It's part of why I can handle teaching high school so well; and possibly why the kids don't hate me. :)

So many people miss all the good things teenagers do because all they hear about is the shit that goes on. I watched a dozen student-devised plays and was pleasantly surprised at the results. I supervised 30 students on a university campus in the middle of an urban core with no serious issues (unless you count finding them at a May Day anarchist rally). I spent time chatting with them as people, not just as students.

I wonder if teenagers are really that bad, or if it's the adults they encounter. Especially when I see crap like this:

And it wasn't his first offence.

Now, sure, that's one man and hardly representative of all police officers. Likewise, the kid, Eric Bush, is not necessarily representative of all teenagers. It's really a lesson in stereotypes and discrimination. Just because a kid is skateboarding does not mean that he's a delinquent; just because an adult is a cop does not mean that he or she is right.

Every day I work with 90 kids, the vast majority of whom are amazing, intelligent and caring people. Every day I encounter a few shitheads, too, but that has nothing to do with their age. Most of those will be shitheads when they're 90.

Adolescence is a hard time, and not having a clear idea of how to treat teenagers as people makes it worse. It's easy to live up to mediocrity. When you expect a kid to act like a stupid jerk, many of them will be happy to oblige because it's easier than busting their ass to prove someone wrong when they aren't going to listen anyway. So maybe give them the benefit of the doubt, even when they're walking in packs and taking up the whole sidewalk. Somewhere in that pack is a decent individual who will live up to your positive expectation. You just have to set the example.

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