Empathy for Teenagers

I’ve been spending time with my niece & my son, both of whom are teenagers.  We are staying next door to my parents, and any time they act teenagerish my parents say something like “I can’t wait until you have your own teenagers!  you’ll see then”.    To be clear, I am not picking on my parents, because more people than not make statements like this.  Things like “I hope your kids are as messy as you” or “I can’t wait to see you take care of cranky kids like you”, and I just don’t get it.  Why would you want to watch our grandchildren, or children, struggle?

Perhaps I’m more sympathetic towards teens because I hated being one. I barely survived my teen years, and I still struggle with severe anxiety and self esteem issues as a result.  I can not fathom being a teen today!  The issues they deal with that we never had are huge.

  • Everything they do is documented.  For ever.  Can you imagine that?  Think back to your teen years and ponder what it would look like if every move you made was available for anyone to view.  Every bad choice, every bad outfit, every bad moment, eternally documented, if not by you then by someone else.  Personally, I’d be mortified if my teenage years were so easily view-able, but our teens deal with this every single day.
  • They have unlimited access to what can only be described as a fantasy world.  Facebook, instagram, snapchat and other sites are filled with posts that can only be described as egotistical and boast-ful.  Each user posts his/her most stunning pictures, significant accomplishments, and favorable stories.  I’ve yet to find the person who posts pictures of them getting out of bed, accounts of losing their job or being abandoned by their spouse, or reviews of their weaknesses as human beings.  What people post is them at their best and truthfully, how often are we at our best?   Add to that photoshop, advertising,  pornography, heck…..the Bachelor, with perfect women in bikinis, skiing in San Francisco.   How on earth can a person feel good about them self when comparing themselves with this illusion?
  • Education has changed in ways we can’t fathom. Many of us complain that our kids aren’t taught handwriting, but let’s be honest:  the amount of material these kids are required to master far exceeds the perfect handwriting we spent hours on.  Our teens have mastered computer skills, math facts, and research skills long before we ever did.  It is true that teens no longer have good handwriting.  It is also true that every single one of them can type better than most 50 year olds, and they can master new technology in minutes, versus the hours it takes most adults.   Since they are living in an increasingly virtual world, isn’t that the more valuable skill?  In addition to the increasingly complicated material they must master, they are faced with academic choices we never had to choose.  AP classes?  How many of us even heard of an AP class, let alone took one!  Today though, a college bound student who has not taken at least 1 AP class is viewed as inferior.
  • Competition is excessive.  The standard that everyone needs to go to college has created  a level of competition unprecedented in our history.  Because everyone is going to college, the state schools are able to choose higher achieving students, many of whom accept because the state schools are cheaper.  This means that those with less stellar academic records are being funneled into outrageously expensive private schools,  which they take out insane loans to finance.  Many of these kids will never be able to pay off these loans, if for no other reason than there aren’t enough white collar jobs for all of our college graduates.  When my parents went to college they were accepted into ivy league schools, and jobs were plentiful upon graduation.  They readily admit that they would not be admitted into those schools today, given the competition in our schools.
  • Choices keep expanding.  When we went to school we were told what we needed to do to graduate.  Now, students are faced with a plethora of choices, some of which aide in graduating, some of which don’t.  Choice makes life hard.  Think about the last time you went to the grocery store.  Let’s say you want to buy a can of chicken noodle soup.  30 years ago you would have had 1 choice.  Today you must decide between at least 5 different types.  Having that choice is great, but it makes your shopping trip much more complicated.  This is the teenagers life every day – much more complicated than ours was.
  • Material goods are constantly changing, upping the cost of daily living.   We judge these kids who “have to have” the latest cell phone, laptop and smart tv.  If we are honest with ourselves, we would look back to our teenage years and admit that we, also, needed the new gadget, or item, on the market.  How many of us begged for our own telephone line?   How many of us bought a VCR?  How many of our parents bought the microwave when it first came out?   And, how  many of us spent money on items our parents thought were frivolous but we felt were necessary?  Keeping up with the neighbors is human nature, and judging teenagers because we don’t understand their gadgets is simply wrong.
  • Their mistakes are life changing.  Today, if you are caught with a joint, you are expelled from school.  God forbid you get into a tussle in the cafeteria.  Not only are you expelled from school, you are sent to the local police station and are left with a record.  I’m not advocating for bad choices, but teenagers make them.  I made them.  If I made those same mistakes today my life would be in ruins:  forever.  There is no more learning from their mistakes, because their mistakes are life altering.

Today my son told me I’m considered the “cool mom” among his friends, which concerned me.  I’m not the mom that will buy them beer, or let them do drugs in my home, which was my definition of the “cool mom” when I was a teen.  He told me that what makes me “cool” is that I listen without judgement.  His friends feel like they can be themselves, they can talk to me, they can talk to each other around me.  We talk issues.  We talk about how to handle the bully, how to not be the bully, how to manage the expectations of parents, and feelings of failure.  We talk about girls and dating,  how to handle mean teachers, and what to do about the kid they just don’t want to hang out with.  We talk about politics and the dangers of the internet.  I don’t judge them, because I’d never want to be them.

Life is hard, but not just for adults.  Life is hard for everyone who engages in it, and teens engage with gusto.  As an adult I’d rather celebrate teens than judge them.





2 thoughts on “Empathy for Teenagers

  1. I have two teens and I think they are both amazing. I love the conversations I have with them and I really, truly enjoy them and spending time with them.

    I think the technology of today is a double edged sword. On one hand, yes, all their mistakes and stupid decisions can be up on the Internet forever. On the other hand I look at how well my kids have been able to stay in contact with friends when we’ve moved. Right now I can hear my son playing on his X-Box with his friends who are hundreds of miles away. My daughter regularly FaceTimes with her friends in other states. That’s a wonderful benefit. She also has tons of pictures of her, her friends and her life at school because of her cell phone. When I attended high school I would have had to bring an actual camera, loaded with film that would take anywhere from 12-36 pictures, with me to school, and then turn around and pay money to get that film developed.

    Liked by 1 person

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