My fascination with teenagers began when my children were still small and I began working with a local park to improve its sports programs & classes. Next to the park was the largest housing project in the city. Many of these kids had no adult to talk to and so after my class would end they would stick around and just talk. I would listen. I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut and not judge. They had problems, dreams, situations that I couldn’t begin to understand, but to the core each of these teenagers was a wonderful, interesting person who had the potential to change the world.
As my children grew, I decided to home school, which gave me the chance to teach classes to teenagers. They discussed or argued in class, some to the point of crying because they were so passionate about their beliefs. Frequently our class discussions ranged far from the subject matter as we discussed matters of real significance: what life would look like on other planets (definitely NOT what was shown in movies); could we build a solar car (only if someone raided a parent’s bank account); was Johnny Depp really a genius (never decided that one). Their ideas were creative beyond belief—every think tank should have one of these teens to wake them up.
When my teenagers entered high school, I 1) maintained my close relationships with many of the home schooled teenagers because I was as close as a big sister/aunt to them; and 2) I began costuming for my son’s high school. Theater brings out the best in teenagers. It allows them to be more, bigger, different, special. I was in the middle of it all, doing makeup, hair, sewing, taking measurements (which makes you immediately closer to anyone when you have to say, “Now I’m going to measure your inseam,’ to which every teenager says, “What’s an inseam?”). We laughed, joked, talked about everything, religion, politics, life, why Chinese women bound their feet in years past and what their feet looked like, why I no longer ate fast food, and so on.
In all cases, each of their minds was like a universe unto itself, so large and so full of ideas and emotions. When it was quiet, one or two would talk about deeper issues and I would listen. Gently they opened up, even the most suspicious, the one with the most walls, or the one protecting himself with sarcasm. All it took was time and quiet and me listening. And then there it was, a fantastic, amazing human being that maybe no one had bothered to see before.
If I try to put words to my belief in teenagers it would be that I believe in their passion. When I watch these teenagers or talk to them, I love their joy in life, their passion about everything.
You should listen to your teenager. Maybe she or he will save the world. You never know.
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