So when you say, "You just don't understand me!" you're right! Congratulations! As an adult, I admit that I do not understand you.
Oddly enough, it seems like I didn't really understand teenagers when I was a teenager either. That kind of makes me think that while there are some things that most teenagers have in common--bad skin, mixed up emotions, insecurity, the desire to be independent--teenagers are actually individuals who are complete mysteries to each other.
Teenagers have been on my mind a lot lately for a variety of reasons. One, I am teaching high school seniors this summer with Upward Bound. Two, I have spent my career as an educator working with teenagers (9 years in the trenches of public high schools). And three, I aspire to be a writer specializing in YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) literature. In other words, I write for teens and tweens.
So you'd think I'd understand teenagers a bit better.
But here are some things I do know about teenagers:
- They are chock-full of potential.
- Every little thing they do today is creating them into the person they will be tomorrow.
- They are capable of doing all kinds of things they may not realize they can do.
- Sometimes they are so distracted by requirements that they forget to think independently.
- I really don't understand what makes them tick.
Working with teenagers, I've been very distracted by the idea of motivation. How can I motivate you guys? How can I get you to do your best? How can I get you excited about whatever it is we happen to be doing?
It's easy to get little kids excited. Life is new. It's an adventure. They're not afraid to express their giddiness. They don't care what the other kids think about them. All of them are giddy little monsters, so why would they care?
But teenagers? Teens are cynical about the world. "Yeah, we've already seen that." Yawn. "We already did that in school." Another yawn. Or maybe they don't want to show too much excitement because they are afraid other people will make fun of them.
I remember that as a teenager I tried really hard to hide my true self. You don't want to stand out too much, I told myself. You want to blend in. You don't want people to think you're a freak. You don't want to be different. Whatever you do, don't be conspicuous.
Here is a quote a friend of mine gave me about teenagers: It's important to be different, just like everybody else.
Interesting quote, which I'm sure a lot of teenagers would say isn't true, but think about it really. You want to be different, special, unique, but on the other hand, you don't want to stand out too much. You don't want people to think you're weird. You may say, "I don't care if people think I'm weird. That's their problem." But think about it. Do you really not care what your group of friends think about you? What the girl or boy you have a crush on thinks about you? If you say you don't, you either have buckets of self esteem or you're lying to yourself.
I feel like I'm getting off track here, but the thing I want to circle back to is being yourself and being enthusiastic about something. Believe it or not, people will admire and respect you if you are enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is catchy. People like to be around others who are enthusiastic. I know I like to be around enthusiastic people. I may not agree with them about everything, but I love to soak up their energy. It makes me feel energized.
So do you agree? Do you think it's okay to be enthusiastic when you're a teenager? Do you think it's okay to be motivated? To be inspired? Or is it more important to hide yourself so that people won't make fun of you? (Hint: Most people admire others who are enthusiastic/motivated/inspired.)
It'd be interesting to get some comments on what you think...