I have been thinking a LOT lately about teenagers. (Maybe it is because I have two of them myself and quite often have extras over at my house.) I am the first one to admit that kids at that age can be loud, obnoxious, unaware of their surroundings, etc., but sometimes I have to sit back and take a minute to remember what I was like as a teenager and thank heaven that there were adults around me that were tolerant and loving.
We live in a very young area. By that I mean that most of the couples are in their twenties/early thirties and have very young children. Mike and I are actually probably among the top ten oldest couples in our congregation! I love the people in our area dearly. We have made some very close friends and enjoy where we live very much. However, sometimes it is really hard being one of the VERY few parents of teenagers around here. There are not many people that we can commiserate with who understand what life with teenagers is like and quite frankly, the handful of couples that have had teenagers seem to have already forgotten how their kids were.
Although the majority of people in our area are very young, and not that many years from being a teenager themselves, it surprises me how quickly they forget what they were like at that age. As a parent, I frequently have to remind myself of some of the things I did as a teenager... sneaking out, breaking curfew, toilet papering people's houses, partying, flirting, just to name a few. I don't think there is one of us out there who didn't do at least one, more than likely several things as teenagers that we regretted! So how is it that as adults we all of a sudden expect that the teenagers around us should be perfectly behaved and become intolerant of them if they aren't?
What bugs me the most is that we have a very good group of boys in our area who pretty much stay out of major trouble. As of now there has been no sneaking out, breaking curfew, toilet papering, etc... Still, I have a son who just a couple of nights ago informed me that he is tired of people giving them crap and thinking that they are up to no good all the time even if they are just playing ball or hide and go seek. He is insistent that he would rather just hang with his friends at home instead of attending activities where he doesn't feel welcome. This is so sad to me. Mostly because the men that actually work with these boys are absolutely awesome and ironically, NOT the ones that give them a hard time at all.
There have been a few experiences the past few weeks with different individuals that have made me ponder on these things. Here is one example: There was an incident a couple of weeks ago where the boys were reprimanded as a group for something silly that a couple of them did. When I first heard of what they had done I sat them down myself and said... "Really? What the heck were you thinking?" I then listened to them explain about what had gone down that night that resulted in them making this decision...
The short version of the story is that a man who they didn't know at all, (whom they affectionately call "suit man"... remember, these are 14 year old boys), made it his business to be in their face throughout the evening. In their eyes, this man who insisted on following them around had preconceived notions that they were up to no good at the church, even though they were simply playing basketball and hide and go seek with their leaders. Because he continued to make unsolicited comments to them, they retaliated by knocking on the outside window of the room they saw him walk in to, (which happend to be another wards Bishop's office), and then they ran away laughing.
As a parent of a teenager, was I surprised when I heard this was the outcome? Ummm... not really. They are teenagers. Do I think that it made it ok that they did it? Of course not! And I told them that they made a bad decision and not to do that again. But honestly, I do understand their thought process, and the immature teenage version of myself would have probably done something similar if not worse.
Unfortunately, their retaliation to this man gave this man the fuel he needed/wanted to form his complaint against these boys, making them feel like they are now branded trouble-making teens. Do not get me wrong... I absolutely believe that teenagers need discipline and they need to be told when they are doing something wrong... but in this case, I am just not sure that their actions were not unduly shaped by the way they were treated initially by "suit man". And sadly, in their very sensitive eyes, this experience has possibly changed attitudes of people they love and respect towards them.
Now just so that you know I am not simply being a protective parent, I will tell you that my son was NOT one of the kids that knocked on the window, but he was there to witness it. Of course, I am in no way an expert on Teenagers... (I am definitely learning just like anyone else), but I have a special place in my heart for them. Maybe it is because I have served as the Young Women's President for an accumulated 5-6 years in the past decade or so. Maybe it is because my kids are now that age and I know how real and sensitive their feelings are. Maybe it is because I had a Young Women's leader who was anything but kind and tolerant of me and I never want another teenager to feel the way I did. Whatever the reason, I just implore people to get to know the youth of their area and teach them tolerance and love and respect through EXAMPLE. They are going to make mistakes as they find themselves and learn how to deal with situations and problems. Just love them anyway.
A few years from now the 200+ little kids in my neighborhood will be teenagers and I hope and pray for their sakes that by that time their parents and the other people around them will be reminded of how they acted when they were that age. Maybe then they will remember to be a little more patient and a little kinder. On the lighter side of things, Hubby and I will definitely be having a good giggle at their expense when that time comes. ;)