I work with teens from privileged homes.
I work with teens from disadvantaged homes.
I spent years working with incarcerated teens.
I work with teens form each of these groups who have great promise.
Living in my home are two teens and a tween of my own.
What I’ve learned from all of these teens is that most of them live inside out.
By living with their inside on the outside they are transparent, wearing in full view their every feeling, every thought, everything that comes from within.
They definitely turn my existence inside out.
They can bring out anger that I didn’t even know I had inside me, in a way that amazes me again and again. And yet, at the same time, they have the capacity to leave me completely in awe.
What I think is most interesting is that everything that comes out of me I know touches them inside in a profound way.
That is what we, as educators, as adults, and as leaders really have to take into consideration and remember. That inside that eye rolling, opinionated, critical teenager is someone searching, becoming, and trying hard to define who she or he is.
These teenagers that I’m surrounded by show me what they’re thinking, tell me what’s on their mind, and express thoughts that we adults hold back.
We adults think about it, but, typically, hold it inside and usually do not say anything out loud.
Lately, I’ve been watching a show called “The World of Dance.” There are a few different categories, Juniors, Adults and others. One part of this show is something called the duels. It is a competition between two different dance opponents. It’s amazing how the Juniors (who are mostly teens) have no inhibitions and are savages.
Jenifer Lopez, who hosts the show, commented on the ruthlessness of the Juniors.
The truth is, I am sure the adults feel the same way as the kids. They just hide it better inside. I am sure they are as devastated when they lose, happy when they win, and have the savage fighting instinct in them somewhere inside.
I am grateful for my own personal teens and all the teens I work with, who push me and pull me inside out and make me think and question and ponder.
They make me a better me, every time I’m with them, and they take existential to a new level.
In our curriculum there is a communication exercise I use. Someone plays the inner voice of the person speaking. It is a little awkward and super funny.
It’s interesting that the children who grow up with privilege have lots of inhibitions about expressing their inner thoughts. It’s the children who grew up in disadvantage that have no problem saying out loud what they feel inside.
I would say that the majority of my teens, no mater where they are from, have no problem telling me or my facilitators what they think about our program.
My children have no problem telling me again and again how lame I am.
Long ago when I was living in Israel and doing peace work, I was sitting in Ramallah with my dear, dear, Palestinian sister and talking with her as her teenage son came into the room. Man did he wear his inside out!
“I don’t want to talk to you,” he said.
“I hate you and your people. What you do is terrible!”
He said really hard things to me for at least 20 minutes. The beauty of teenagers is that after those 20 minutes, he sat, he listened, he took everything I had to say in and ended up becoming a friend, a good friend. Once you say what’s inside, it’s out. Then, you are open to taking what is outside in.
Years later he remains one of my favorite people. I know that on that first day he saw me, he heard what I had to say even though he didn’t really want to.
In the many peace circles I participated in at that time, no one had ever spoken to me as directly as this young man. It was that directness that opened the pathway to dialogue.
That’s what I love about working with teenagers. They’re hard, but willing to be soft. They are critical but willing to listen. They can piss you off and make you laugh really hard, sometimes at the same time. They challenge you and drive you crazy.
The lesson here is that many teens may look on the outside as if they are leaning back, pretending to be cool, trying to show us that they do not care and seem oh-so-bored with everything that comes out of our mouths. But, actually, inside they are leaning in. They are paying attention and they are listening, watching every move, every word, and taking notes.
Believe me, I fail and fail again and again. I get sucked in by teens, my personal ones in particular. I get pulled by their attitude. Their words sometimes make me engage in a way that I should know better not to.
I know that I need to control my outside, hold it better inside, and not react to every whim, wine, or roll of the eyes.
I need to let them figure it out and not respond or get involved, because, ultimately, that’s exactly what being a teenager is about. A time to figure it all out.
Even though we adults know a sad secret. You never really figure it all out.
We are all still just trying.