“They said all teenagers scare the living sh*t out of me”
“Why are you fighting so hard for him!?” screeched committee chair for the youth exchange program, where I’m a volunteer counselor.
Our exchange student from Germany was being kicked out of school and deported for one reason.
Other than his grades, this kid was a stellar exchange student. He got involved in the American culture, learned the language, had a good attitude, etc…
But those grades.
I was an exchange student in Germany during my Senior year of high school. If grades were as important for me and my fellow American teenagers abroad, about 80% of us would be sent home.
This event pushed me into a spiral of rage, a lot of which, was coming from something greater than this event, as unfair as it was. I realized…
Teenagers are often seen as being inherently evil.
Guilty until proven innocent.
So, to answer the chair’s question, why was I fighting so hard to keep him here? My question back to him was — why was everyone else on the committee trying so hard to get rid of him? Was it to set an example? To hold on to their old-fashioned pride? To reinforce their authority?
Or because we always assume that teens are flipping us off as soon as we turn our backs?
Oh, yet another act of American exceptionalism to show the world how backwards we can be.
In the work that I do, I’m constantly reminded of this injustice. I see the distrust that parents and teachers have in teens. I see the defensive stance that so many adults take around them.
And I finally snapped. I went off on the committee chair.
Then I calmed down again. But only to be reminded yet again of this frustration when I was doing a school visit recently.
The staff have separate bathrooms.
The toilet paper in the student bathrooms comes in tiny, translucent squares.
The clocks and lights are encased with thick plastic.
I took a picture of a whiteboard in the theater that was entitled “Detention”. It read, “No feet on seats. No heads down. No sleeping. No technology.”
In short, the whole building seemed to be designed to reinforce the message of inadequacy, shame, guilt, distrust, punishment, and inferiority.
Although we’d never admit it, we, as a culture, show our blatant disdain for teenagers in our actions.
So, why are we surprised when our teens lack enthusiasm, self awareness, confidence and passion?
It’s apparent that what we’re doing is working.