He’s the kind of teenager you might side-step to avoid. The rough-around-the-edges sort. The one you may think will amount to nothing.
He was a student of mine last year. This week he walked into my classroom as the weariness of the day fell on my shoulders. School had let out, yet there he stood. Beaming.
“I just wanted you to know, Mrs. Iseminger. I got into UTI!” he said as the smile reached his eyes. His excitement reached my heart. Headed to a technical school, he’ll be an auto technician in less than two years. And he wanted me to know.
And I want you to know he’s worth knowing. While his edges may be frayed and rough, he wants to amount to something. He’s like the thousand-plus other teens I’ve had the privilege of teaching. Students with amazing potential. Humans desperate to be understood.
As a society we often look down on our teenagers from our lofty, experienced heights. We see them as rude and unruly. Wild and crazy. Rebellious and untrustworthy. And often they are. So are some of us.
Because we are all humans in need of grace.
Here is what I know—teens are incredible human beings. This is undeniable. Because God promises all are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each and every one is spectacular.
Even the adolescent.
I don’t know a teenager who doesn’t want a future bright and clear. From the AP students to those struggling the most—not one is without a dream. For them, our world is full of the possible.
Teens stand at the edge of humanity filled with uncertainty. Asking the hard questions: Who will I be? What does the puzzle of my life look like? What purpose will I fulfill? The same questions we often still ask of ourselves.
Desperate for guidance fueled by love and boundaries marked by grace, the teen needs you.
They crave your love, not your shaking head and muttered words. Oh how they want to be heard, not swept under a rug—forgotten. You don’t have to understand the teenager to wrap your arms around him.
Their teenage years are more difficult than mine ever thought about being. Filtered by the information age, they live an existence bombarded with images of distorted realities.
They’re faced with drug and sexual pressures that would make you shudder. Mixed up in a world confused by the changing definitions of judgment and tolerance, they don’t know whom to trust.
So we have to trust them first. We have to earn their confidence. I know. It’s backwards. The teen should have to earn our respect. Right? But if you’ve only ever been shown hate and apathy, can you understand real respect? Or trust?
Lessons for the teen must be caught. Not taught. You can preach grace and forgiveness and acceptance from your soapbox, but if you never climb down to practice your preach…well, the teen can see right through you.
And maybe that’s why we struggle to accept them. Because we look into their eyes and see our truest selves. It can cut us to the core.
We can’t tell them they need to listen. We must show them with the lives we lead. The values we carry. We must be the village cheerleaders.
There will always be those teenagers with hardened hearts, ready to cause harm and destruction. But the same can be said of the adults they often follow.
As the God-follower, we’re called to embrace the lost and forgotten of this beautiful world. Maybe we should begin with our teens.
If teenagers are our future, what are we, the collective village, doing to meaningfully invest in their lives? Our future is in desperate need of our love. In order to want to invest in a society, our students need to see a society willing to invest in them.
When last did you smile at the teenager in the store? She may not smile back. And that’s okay.
When last did you see a teenager do something kind, regardless of how small, and praise him. He may have never heard praise before.
When last did you speak a word of encouragement instead of rant about music too loud or clothing too risqué?
When last did you love first and guide later?