To the discouraged parent/teacher/youth worker,
You are not alone.
I love teens (obviously). I spend my time, energy and free time working with, encouraging and getting to know teenagers. Many times, I receive so much joy from working with this population – the times they write me letters, say they want to be just like me when they grow up, thank me for my time, or tell me how much I have changed their life for the better.
Ha! Do you know how many times this has happened? I could probably count them on one hand…or 2 fingers.
Instead, what reward do I get for working with teenagers on a daily basis? Let me list a few and see if you can relate:
A daily ego-check.
If you are going to spend any significant amount of time with teenagers, you better develop a pretty solid self-esteem.
Teenagers have a way of being brutally honest and pointing out your tiniest flaws. Where an adult might let something slip out of a sense of decency, a teenager will point out when you have a booger stuck to your hand – thank you for announcing that to a group of high school boys in the middle of my introduction.
They will mock the way you talk, ask why you look like a middle schooler, tell you that your activity is stupid and roll their eyes at every opportunity.
If that doesn’t make you want to jump into a profession of working with adolescents, I don’t know what will!
A chance to reflect on my life choices.
I have yet to get a clear answer on why middle school or high school students feel like they are mature/knowledgeable/experienced enough to judge my life choices, but it happens quite frequently.
“You’re married already?? How old are you anyways? You should have dated a few more years before you decided to do that…” or “I’m never getting married! Do you really want to stay with him for the rest of your life? I’d rather just chill until I’m 30 or something.”
“You live in a house? Shouldn’t you be saving money and live in an apartment before you have kids?”
“You have to work with kids like us every day? That must suck.” (His words, not mine!)
“You went to school in Abilene? There is NOTHING out there. Why didn’t you go to TCU?”
Sorry, it’s a little too late for me to go back and change where I went to school or who I married (not that I would want to), but I am thankful for the constant reminders that I am throwing my life away.
Nightmares about the future of our nation.
Let me just preface this one by saying that I work with students at an alternate campus on a weekly basis – those kicked off of their home campus for one reason or another.
Many times, when talking about the future, what they would want to change and what could be better, I get the response, “Next time, I won’t get caught.”
I talk to students with great, impressive dreams like playing basketball in the NBA, becoming a recording artist, going to law school, becoming a surgeon. I love encouraging every teen I meet to chase their dreams and do what it takes to make them a reality.
However, I do not have great confidence in the future lawyer who cannot currently stay awake in a 45 minute group because he is still high from the night before. Or the future doctor who is failing science because she won’t turn in her assignments.
So why do we do it?
Working with teenagers is hard, but I don’t do it for the money or thanks I hope to receive.
Here are some of the real reasons why it is worth it to continue to love, minister to and encourage teenagers:
Lots of laughter.
No matter what population I am working with – students on alternative campuses, teen-aged parents, or seniors getting ready to graduate – they are in an exciting time of life, filled with laughter and few real-life responsibilities.
Even in the midst of junk, grief, drama and consequences, taking time to laugh and remember the little things in life is a good thing.
In our groups, we often to ask, “What is one good thing that is going on this week?”
Sometimes the answers are exciting, sometimes the only answer is “nothing bad happened,” and sometimes we get to celebrate and laugh at the small victory of “eating Taco Bueno” for dinner.
Hope for those who still have time to change.
As I joked about earlier, I cannot go back and change high school or college. It is too late for me, but it is not too late for them!
Middle and High School can be confusing and overwhelming, but they are at a point in their lives where they can choose who they want to be and where they want their life to go. They have the power to change for the better and start living a better story.
You get to encourage that! You get to speak life and offer suggestions and dream big dreams with them – that is a job worth your time.
Reminders that they do care – and they notice when others care about them.
In our Teen Lifeline Support Groups, my favorite week of the curriculum is when we talk about relationships and how close they feel to those in their lives. I love hearing about their families and friends, and it matters to them that you are there for them, consistently and unconditionally.
Sometimes I wish I could play back a tape of our discussion to a student’s parents/teachers/coaches/mentors. They tell me being grounded by a mom who cares and sacrifices so they can have better life. They talk about dads who never miss a game and support them when they are at their worst. They mention coaches who help tutor them after school and invite them over to eat dinner when their parents are absent. I hear about youth ministers and parents of friends who stand in the gap when no other adult will.
You matter. They recognize that you matter.
From them, and from a former teenager who was just as ungrateful, thank you for investing and pushing through insecurities, frustration and discouragement to make a difference in the life of a teenager.