So I believe in teenagers. With thirty years of a ring-side seat in teaching adolescents behind me, I believe in the magical growth of a coiled-up thirteen-year-old to the near symmetry of the eighteen-year-old…and all the fizz and gallop in between. I believe in lanky Sam’s uncorked energy, Angel’s unmitigated and yet fragile ego, and Heather, who, like someone in the witness protection program, is one person on Monday and another on Wednesday. For teenagers change is not the stuff of self-help books written for scheduled moments of adult development, but the tapestry of everyday life, and watching them navigate the tides by constantly trying something new is beyond utilitarian: it’s downright inspiring.
I even believe in adolescent theatre in which everything, and I mean everything, even silence, is amplified, and sheer volume is the modus operandi. Stubbed toes are, indeed, terminal, and betrayals and alliances are as fast moving as a Risk game. But the lines in this theatre are never rehearsed, never memorized. They are as raw and as authentic as rain, and just as unpredictable. Slammed doors, joyful leaps in the air, stormy looks, and un-asked-for hugs are all part of the repertoire. I love the texture, the honesty, and the undisguised of the teen who lets you know the mood, no matter the audience, no matter the timing.
I believe, too, in the nearly lyrical possibilities of their borderline world and the dramatic paradox of the unfinished and the oh-so-sure. In this land of the in between, the story of the teenager is the story of identity, the story of never settling, and the story of constant questioning. And if you look hard enough and listen well, it’s a story for us all. And this is why I believe in teenagers the most. Never taking “because I told you so,” as a legitimate answer, these wonderful, young people will hold us accountable, challenge definitions, and smell out hypocrisy like well-trained bloodhounds. And well they should because, in our heart of hearts we all know that “I told you so,” is a statement of power not reflection. That is why when Sam, or Julia, Noah, or Naomi, with hands in jeans pockets, head tilted sideways, shoulders high in a questioning shrug, ask over and over again, “why,” I stop in my tracks and try to remember something I should have never forgotten: good questions sometimes demand more than the answers I have on hand. Teenagers can be our teachers, our models for refusing to live on the surface and for demanding depth, candor, and truth. They can make us stand back, scratch our heads, and really ask ourselves the hard questions of why. I believe in them.
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