My son is nearing the end of Grade 9. His junior high school years are coming to a close and soon he and his friends will disperse into a variety of high schools in our city.
I’m a big fan of this generation. It seems a societal convention is to complain about teenagers, but I find I am constantly learning from them.
If you have young people in your life, too, perhaps you can relate to seeing their strengths: their awareness of global issues, their appreciation of diversity, and their ability to make a positive difference.
I’ve had the good fortune to volunteer with my son’s class this year and have attended a number of school events. It doesn’t take much observation to glean wisdom from these students. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from them:
1. Engage in more dialogue, and less debate
I volunteered when my son’s class visited a homeless shelter. We got a tour of the facility and learned about their many programs. After returning to the classroom, the students discussed what stood out about their experience.
Each person who spoke had a different perspective. For example, my son felt we shouldn’t have toured the living quarters at the shelter because even though the residents weren’t there while we walked through, he felt strongly about their right to privacy – for their spaces and their belongings. This sparked a rich discussion about the merits of raising awareness about homelessness and about a facility that serves those in need, and the rights of the people who reside there.
As a silent observer, I was struck by the students’ ability to:
· be patient and wait their turn to speak,
· to listen – really listen – to their peers,
· to acknowledge what was said,
· and then respond with their own thoughtful viewpoints.
It was a beautiful dialogue.
While I understand the advantages of debate skills, the young people’s dialogue that day inspired more learning and understanding than I’ve ever seen in a debate.
Patience to listen deeply and respond respectfully is something our world needs more of. More dialogue, less debate, please.
2. Use your voice to support others
From speaking up for shelter residents’ right to privacy, to organizing a school walk-out in support of LGBTQ+ peers, to educating parents about hidden disabilities and mental health issues, these students have no qualms about voicing their support for others.
One of the purest examples of this support was cheering for their teammates at an intermural track and field meet involving several junior high schools. Lap after lap, race after race, the students cheered and cheered for their fellow athletes.
Sometimes, long after the top runners had crossed the finish line, slower runners would come around the corner and begin the final stretch to the finish. In some cases, it was a couple of students who finished the race much later. And in other cases, a lone runner would be on the track finishing the last lap. It didn’t matter: the young people in the bleachers stood up and cheered just as loudly for the last place finisher as they did for the winners.
Over and over the same scene played out. It was loud and raucous, but it was positive and supportive. I loved every minute of it.
While our own day-to-day interactions may not call for cheering at the top of our lungs, it doesn’t take much to offer some genuine words of support, to build up someone who’s feeling knocked down, or to simply decide to be firmly in someone else’s corner and check in with them.
3. Have fun together and laugh often
My son and his friends can create a game out of anything. And out of thin air they can make a same-day plan to go downhill skiing. They will juggle schedules, city transit, and competing commitments to meet up and hang out. Just to spend fun time together.
I’ve learned from them that having fun together can happen anywhere. My son plays competitive baseball and travelling for tournaments is a highlight for all involved. Even when he and his teammates aren’t on the diamond, they find a way to devise make-shift baseball games. Bases can be frisbees or hoodies. Bats can be sticks found beside the hotel parking lot, plastic kids bats reinforced with duct tape, or pool noodles if their game is in the hotel pool. Baseballs can be pine cones or beach balls. You get the picture.
Their resourcefulness is impressive, but the best part is how they cackle with laughter. Hearty, unfiltered laughter. It’s priceless.
There is pressure on these kids: to do well in school, to win, to not get captured on video doing dumb stuff (in a world where nearly everyone has a camera and instant access to the internet).
Their ability to gather with friends, enjoy each other’s company, and laugh constantly reminds me what’s most important in my life, too. Time spent with valued colleagues and dear friends and family is my favourite time of all, and nothing beats laughing with them until my face hurts.
So what stops US from carving time in our schedules to be with the people we love most?
Where could WE be more free with our laughter?
Teenagers don’t get everything right; none of us do. But they have a lock on important values that I sometimes forget. May they continue to teach us and remind us in the coming years and decades… we’ll be in good hands.
P.S. A shout-out to the teachers and school staff:
You work long hours amid a range of challenges, pressures, and complexities to ensure our young people have safe environments to explore new concepts and test their ideas. You are special people who are called to help grow our future leaders. Thank you for all you do to guide this next generation of changemakers. I hope you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.
Ball Park Sunset Photo by Kara Exner