Teenagers These Days

10:19 AMHeather

I sat alone on the hard, plastic stadium seats as the cold front came in, shivering because I forgot how quickly the weather can turn in Texas.  My husband was out of town, so it was all up to me to cheer on our oldest son in his first high school track meet.  While I sat, rather incognito in my son's hoodie, I listened to the teenagers all around me.  I made observations as I overhead their banter--and it made think that I had to share some things with all of you about teenagers today.



Teenagers get a bad rap.  I'm not sure where this started, but it's been true for quite a while.  In fact, when I just googled an image of teenagers for today's blog post, I found multiple pictures of teenagers drinking and smoking pot.  Yep.  Teenagers these days.  Don't we tend to see them in a bad light?  Somewhere between their irritability and struggles for independence and at times, attitude--we as a nation have painted a pretty negative picture of teenagers today.  Impulsive.  Cocky.  Arrogant.  Rude.  Belligerent.  Ungrateful.  

And we forget.  We forget how hard those years can be.  We forget that they are humans.  We forget our own angst in those years when our bodies were changing.  As our independence and responsibility were looming. And the opinions of our peers were so important.  We forget what hard work it can be to go to school, participate in activities, be a good friend, listen to your parents, and resolve the conflicting voices in your head.  All while trying to figure out who you are.

I want you to remember.  I want you to consider two main observations I made last night, during those two-and-a-half hours at a high school track meet. While I sat among parents and teens and listened and watched.

First of all, we forget that behind all that bravado and nonchalant attitude, teenagers are struggling with insecurities.  In fact, teeming with insecurities.  About their looks.  About their relationships.  About their futures.  About the struggles of everyday.  I sat just rows from a large section of teenage girls.  These girls are athletes.  They are fit and adorable and smart and determined and hard workers.  Remember what your body looked like before bearing children? 

Yet, repeatedly, I heard these types of comments.  "Do these sweat pants look okay?"  Or, "Does this look funny?"  Or, after an interaction with a male teammate--"What do you think he meant by that?"  

Parents, let's not forget this.  Our kids are daily doing battle with insecurity.  How about we admit to ourselves that we struggle with it as well?  And we are grown-ups!  We have, well, let's just say, LOTS of years of experience.  These kids are walking the tight rope between a carefree childhood (hopefully it was carefree) and the weight of becoming an adult.  They are fragile behind all that tough armor they put on, protecting themselves by acting like they don't hear you or they don't care.  

It's our job, always, and especially in the teen years, to build them up.  To continually invest powerful and positive statements into them.  To tell them all that we believe in them, that they've got this, that we are so proud of them, and to specifically point out the tiniest milestones.  They may ACT like they are tuning you out--but they are not.  Reinforce their abilities and worth at home.  Often.  Habitually.  Remember that when they snap or seem unlovable, it may be the most delicate and important time to pour into them with a word of affirmation or encouragement. Maybe they need a hug and a sense of connection to you more than they need a talking to.

Here's an example I saw last night of a mom who lost sight of this.  Her daughter smoked ALL the competition in her race.  Won by far.  And as she walked up the stairs, breathless and red faced, toward her mom, her mom quickly pointed out things she should do differently.  Asking why she didn't do one thing in particular.  And not to forget that tip next time.  The mom didn't see it, but I did.  The look on the girl's face.  Of defeat.  A bit crestfallen.  The girl tried to wrap up the conversation and join her friends, but the mom wouldn't release her until she'd offered all of her sideline critiques.

Let's remember that we are often our worst enemy when it comes to insecurity.  Like the boy whose time was unbelievable in the 100 meter race.  The stands were buzzing about his performance.  As he walked up to the stands and someone congratulated him, he responded, "I could have done better. I was off by 0.4 seconds."

Don't we all do this, to some degree?  Critique and analyze our every move or performance?  Maybe, just maybe, we need to hear our teens out and give them an opportunity to vocalize how they are feeling rather than add to the voices that tell them it wasn't good enough?  

I read a blog post recently about a study on collegiate athletes.  They were asked what they most wanted to hear from their parents after they competed.  Plain and simple, the athletes all wanted to hear their parents say, "I loved watching you."  In other words, let the coaches coach.  And be the voice of affirmation.

Our teens are raked over the coals all day long, every day.  How about we take EVERY opportunity to applaud their efforts and affirm their achievements?  To be the voice of truth about their value and to empower them, by way of silencing the doubts in their minds?  Like the big, tall dad who's daughter walked up to him after her race.  He wrapped her in his arms and kissed her forehead, and said, "Great job, baby.  I'm so proud."  She leaned into him, and then they carried on with an animated conversation after he asked her how the race felt to her.  He asked her opinion.  And based on their pleasant and positive interaction, that daddy gets it.  He's connected to his daughter and has made himself a safe place to fall.  

The second thing I want to say about teenagers these days is something I found so inspiring that I honestly started mentally writing this post last night because I couldn't wait to shout it out.  

Teenagers these days are incredible.  They are a force to be reckoned with and their bad rap is unfair.  The teens years aren't a breeze, and yes, I know, they can be a battle for many parents and teens.  Myself included--because we all have tough days and slug it out to get through it.  But, there is hope for the next generation.  So don't let a few bad examples completely jade your perspective.  Have grace and be encouraged.  

I met many new teammates last night.  Without exception, they were polite, engaging, kind, and respectful.  I was greeted with handshakes and great eye contact.  It dumbfounded me because I remember how quiet and shy I was around adults when I was a teenager.  But, these kids were articulate and mature in their approach to me.  They were warm and inviting and pleasant.

And I couldn't get over how they were with each other.  They were continually saying to one another,  "Way to go!"  or "Great race!"  or "Here--do you need a water bottle?"  The upperclassmen on this team have embraced my freshmen son.  These teenagers sat together, from all backgrounds, all races, each with their own story and history and fears.  And although they run individual races, they seem to have a great team mentality.  

Simply put--because it feels hard to put into words--these teenagers were amazing.  No, they are not perfect.  And they may do dumb things or make bad decisions at times.  Sure, they must have bad days and be a handful at times.  But, let's not lose sight of how amazing these teens are.  Or how much more difficult it is to grow up in our culture today than it was for us.  They are bombarded daily through social media, news as it happens, new temptations, and easy access to all types of things I never knew about at their age.

Yet, these teens are our future.  And from where I'm sitting, things look bright and hopeful.  They are full of energy and passion and kindness and determination.  I know so many teens in my life who have it way more together than I did at their age.

So let's give them credit where credit is due.  Let's embrace the teens in our lives and speak to their potential.  Let's affirm their strengths and coach gently to their weaknesses.  Let's pour grace over their shortcomings and love on them about their worth until they believe it themselves.  Let's not fall for that tough guy or uncaring girl exterior.  Let's remember the fragility of finding yourself through crazy growth spurts and acne.  Let's remember how hard it is to navigate relationships with peers of the same gender and the opposite gender all while trying to plot out a future that is flying at them.  Let's speak positively about teenagers and to teenagers and let's be encouraged.

Because from where I sit, teenagers these days are incredible.  And it's time we start fighting against the bad rap.    

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