“Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves.” – Virginia Satir
As Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month came to a close at the end of February, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the month and what it means to be a teenager in this day and age. I am not so far removed myself, being only 23, but I find myself slipping into this idea of “kids these days” and feeling like I know more than them. Which partially might be true. I have completed high school and higher education and I have at least five more years of life on people who are classified as teens. From that perspective, I have knowledge and maturity that was not available to me when I was 13, 15 or even 18. But does that really mean I know more than teens and can brush off their feelings and thoughts as invalid? I’m arguing no. For this month’s Compassion Project, I want to talk about how we can be better advocates and allies to teens and other youth.
The definition of adultism in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “prejudice or discrimination against young people as a group.” This can look a lot of different ways- from voting eligibility to assuming that a teen or other young person is inherently ignorant about life. It can look like depicting teens as apathetic and lazy. It can look like assuming that the biggest problem in a teen’s life is going to a dance or being asked on a date. It can look like ignoring and minimizing the day-to-day problems teens face that adults forget about.
I want us all to pause, close our eyes, and remember how it felt to be a young person. Think of a time when you felt like you were not being heard, taken seriously, or respected by an older person. Now, think of a time when you felt validated, acknowledged, and heard by someone older than you. Unfortunately for a lot of young people, the former is more common. Adults or even other young people are quick to judge and brush off the experiences, thoughts, and emotions of those younger than us. What does that tell young people about our value in them?
This month, I want us all to try to practice compassion when speaking and listening to younger folks. The young people that I work with every day are thoughtful, intelligent, funny and inspiring with unique thoughts and emotions. Rather than telling them that they are right or wrong, I try to listen and validate their experiences and feelings. By recognizing the value in each young person’s thoughts and ideas, we can learn and grow from our youth.
I work with the WCA’s Youth REPs, who are high school students who raise awareness about dating violence in their schools and their communities. For Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in February, they spent almost two months planning out awareness campaigns to implement in each of their schools. The results were staggering. These students came up with ideas my coworkers and I would have never thought of – things like raffles, pop-up classroom presentations, and putting Post-It notes on lockers reading things like “everyone deserves a healthy relationship” and “you are worthy of equality”. The success of their campaigns showed me the power in listening to and working with young people. By validating their experiences and putting faith in their mission and drive, these students came up with amazing campaigns.
As Virginia Satir says in the quote above; “[teens] are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves.” Regardless of our age, we are all just trying to figure out the world and ourselves. Personally, I’m learning how to budget and file my taxes by myself for the very first time. However, there is unfair scrutiny on teens and youth when they are just also trying to figure out the ins and outs of how to operate as a social being. Life is messy, beautiful, and confusing for everyone. Let us be compassionate, invested, and attentive to the ideas and thoughts of our youth to better advocate for a better future for us all.
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