It’s Time to Rewrite the Script on Teenagers

Thursday afternoon, February 15, I watched my wife and my two young kids disappear beyond the security checkpoint at the Ontario International Airport east of Los Angeles. They were going to visit my wife’s family in Washington for five days. I had tears in my eyes as I left the terminal and walked back to my car.

It was my first time being away from my family since the birth of my daughter a few months ago. On top of that the day before, February 14, was the date of the first mass shooting to make national headlines since my daughter’s birth. Former student Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and shot seventeen people dead, wounding fourteen more.

A combination of saying goodbye to my family for several days and the raw emotions stemming from another deadly school shooting (my oldest is in his second year of preschool and suddenly I didn’t want to drop him off at school anymore) left me feeling a sense of hopelessness that I hadn’t felt before with other shooting events.

But as stories continued to pour out of South Florida onto the national media landscape, something gave me a more hopeful feeling than I’d ever had following a mass shooting. The students were speaking up! Every day now since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, students from that school and others across the United States have been speaking out with poise and dignity and power about what they want to see changed. They’re walking the halls of Congress, they’ve spoken with the President, and they’re on every news channel in America. They’ve started the #NeverAgain movement to stop gun violence.

It’s incredible to see!

When, as a parent, I talk about some of the harder parts of raising kids, I often hear “Just wait ‘til they become teenagers!” The expectation is that they'll be out of control, rebellious, emotional messes. “You think parenting is difficult now? Wait until you have teens in the house!”

What I haven’t heard from people is a message about what I’ve been seeing the last several days. Nobody talks about teens who take control of one of the most contentious issues in America. Nobody has told me, "Just wait until your kids become teenagers. They may become leaders of a national movement. They may show the grown-ups what courage and political will can look like."

I guess it should not come as a surprise, though. Civil Rights leader, Representative John Lewis was 17 years old when he was first arrested for protesting racial injustice. Seventh-day Adventists will recall that at the time she helped start the movement that became the Adventist Church, Ellen White was in her teens.

It's time to rewrite the script for teenagers. Sure, they have disagreements with adults in their lives. That's normal. That's part of the differentiation that comes with growing up and becoming their own people apart from their families and teachers.

But as the students from Stoneman Douglas High School who are leading the nation right now on the issue of gun violence have demonstrated, teenagers have an almost limitless capacity to make change and to do good in a world that tells them to sit down and be humble.

So if you talk to me about when my kids become teenagers some day, make sure to mention the fact that they could become the rebellious, angsty, awkward kids who accomplish the things that we, their parents, never dreamed or dared to do.

Jared Wright is a News Correspondent for SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image Credit: Flickr.com / Lorie Shaull

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8588
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I have an 18 year old and a 21 year old. They are amazing and so are their friends! The hard part about teens is keeping up with them. I did not experience any of the horror stories that people tell. Your mileage may vary, but I think those horrid teens are the exception that proves the rule.
Thanks for your article!

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There is no substitute for humility, and for readiness to acknowledge what others, even those on whom we may be tempted to look askance, are doing for the rest of us.

Thanks, Jared. Love hearing from you. I want my fears and hope to resemble the spirit that comes through in your article.

Chuck

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“We are climbing Jacobs Ladder, is at three fold curse.1. Adventism defines each step as harder and harder. 2 It is the theme of The Mormon Visitor Center. 3. it is the doctrine of Rome. The Truth is Christ Came Down That Ladder- and Angels now minister to us upon Him. Messages To Young People is a compilation of each impossible rung of the Adventist Ladder.

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i really hope those florida teens get some kind of gun control for their efforts…i can’t imagine the dejection, hopelessness and anger they’ll feel if they get nowhere…

I agree with this to a very large extent. Firstly, I believe something needs to be done politically and spiritually. However I can’t help but to have a bit of hesitation when it comes to the age group in reference. Kids these days are smart, connected, and capable. However I think we need to remember that they are still quite young. I myself am 24 and it wasn’t until a few years ago I started really seeing things in a mature sense.

There are quite a few issues attached to gun control and protests that a teenager may not fully understand yet. Not the least of which is the freedom to own a gun as outlined in the constitution. While I agree with a total elimination of guns, its not hard to understand that if one right gets encroached on, some would see it possible for all others to be as well.

Should we listen to the teenagers? Absolutely!
Do we need changes to be made? Absolutely!
But let’s get our children some more thorough education on the entirety of the issues at hand, and then they can work their minds and probably come up with a great solution!

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I am in open awe and admiration of these articulate, eloquent,teenagers and their impassioned pleas for change.

More particularly, when they are products of public education, which in many towns/cities in the USA, is a disaster.

I myself sent all four of my offspring to private (non SDA ) schools, and my four grandchildren attend private (non SDA ) schools. Although extremely expensive, my family has been grateful and hugely satisfied with the outcome.

I recently bought for my daughters who have children, the book the ADOLESCENT BRAIN, authored by a pediatric neurologist.

The new cutting edge science about teenagers, is that their teenage brains do not reach ultimate adult neuronal maturity until the age of 25!

When I attained adulthood (eighteen years old), in the early nineteen fifties, my peer group was getting married, directly out of high school.

It is amazing how many of these marriages survived (although some foundered ), when seven years into these marriages, the couple had matured into two highly different people !

Would also,explain the frustrations many of my friends, who are parents, are having with the immature actions of their twenty somethinga.!

But back then, we made our marital and career decisions, with mental equipment that was still in a formative and incomplete mode.

MORE POWER TO US !

Another compelling insight from this new neuronal teenage brain science, is how devastating the effects,of alcohol and marijuana are on this developing organ,.

This substantiates our long held Adventist positon on alcohol,and drugs.

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The GYC movement has already re-written the script, at least for Adventist young people. Both for teenagers and young adults in general.

I too have been inspired by what has occurred among the students in south Florida. As presidential historian Theodore White wrote years ago in The Making of the President—1968, relative to the youthful activism of that era:

“With their young bodies, limitless energies and mature drives, student activists lead the kind of raw manpower which in other generations of history caused great and hostile nations to tremble.”
Theodore H. White, The Making of the President—1968

Thanks Jared for your very thoughtful article. As a Clinical Psychologist who specialized in teens and additions I believe the hope of our culture lies in listening to and standing behind our teenagers, especially the vocal ones from Florida. Too often those of us who are older have focused more on critiquing our teens than on tuning in to the fresh winds of healthy change they offer. The time is long overdue for us to choose sanity in regard to gun laws, and I for one applaud and agree with the teens now in Washington who are speaking boldly on this issue.

This is a legitimate cause, and I am grateful for those who marched and showed their compassion. It was the same during the civil rights movement. And we need to remember that not all protests are helpful and some even destructive and manipulated by outside interests; and some are passing fads. We need discernment and youth are sometimes vulnerable and, as some have said, not ready for every popular protest that comes along. There seems no doubt in this instance the students are right in trying to change a destructive law that is killing people. It’s not only emotional but logical. No one has suggested taking away all guns only those made for military and policeman. And owners need the maturity, training, and practice just like for driving.

Additional note: I believe no one under 21 should go to war either. Perhaps alternative work programs should be available for teens to help with the growing need for infrastructure and keeping cities and towns clean and maintained. Work training and responsibility is how we mature.

HERE’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT TEENAGERS:

THEY ARE:

Adventurous Willing to undertake or seek out new and daring enterprises. Risk takers.
Bold Similar to adventurous, but also means confident and courageous
Brilliant Exceptionally clever and talented.
Creative Great imagination and original thinking.
Naive Lack of experiences and exposure in life gives them an advantage to face the unthinkable.
Spiritual They are sincerely seeking for a higher power outside of themselves to add meaning to their lives. Christian teenagers can be deeply spiritual and connected to God. Their spiritual commitment surpasses those of adults.

As I have observed the dialogue generated from the Florida tragedy… it is evident that that we as a society can no longer effectively solve complex issues.

In fact, we no longer have the intellectual capacity, integrity, and dedication to develop meaningful solutions to complex issues.

Instead, we have devolved into essentially, slinging of “gotcha” vacuous sound bites or… raining down the most pithy of platitudes aiming to be first in the game of social virtue.

While I realize these are established human behaviors for coping, so deserve tolerance and even acceptance, these should not be confused with meaningful actions to drive measurable results.

In addition, there is no concern to even attempt to understand, impacts of policy decisions outside of the perceived immediacy, discounting long-term social impacts particularly national and global stability. Assuming that is a goal… (avoiding long digression there).

What I find particularly unfortunate, is the unfounded individual hubris to make “obvious” statements about solutions with no humility and/or intellectual diligence to recognize personal limitations in developing long-term policies. Complex issues require multi-disciplinarian approaches. I consider this… wait for it… obvious…

Earlier a very much on point comment was made about listening to “teenagers”… Well, what does that mean?

I would argue, that whatever teenagers “say”, our responsibility as an Adult is only to use that as a starting point to truly understand what they are attempting to communicate. It is an adult’s responsibility to interact with teenagers to help them better understand their issue of concern AND to help them communicate that concern. Teenagers just have limited capabilities to communicate effectively and comprehensively, and there are as noted, physical brain development that has not completed being part of that equation.

“Listening” does not mean that what a teenager states, should be immediately “actionable”. It is not. In fact, this rule applies to adults, though less so.

Probably.

Teenagers are easily, easily manipulated by adults to perform according to the chosen narrative. This is reprehensible behavior by adults, but to be fair, this happens at a subconscious level for the most part… I would like to think that, though there are cases where it is very much not.

Truly listening, will help to moderate, and that is where I believe the “Script” needs to be rewritten first.

Apologies for a scattershot of thoughts, but don’t have time to form into a well structured essay.

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