Teenagers get a bad rap. They really do. Oftentimes, there’s a good reason for this. You see–I know teens. I’m the proud mom of an ex-teen, two current teens, and a preteen. I write books for teens. I used to be a teen. So, yeah. I know teenagers. I know why they get a bad rap. Because sometimes they lie. Sometimes they get into trouble. Sometimes they screw up and make bad decisions and do really bad things. But, sometimes adults do these things too.
So, why do teens get such a bad rap? Why do we assume they’re liars, thieves, bad drivers, and general miscreants? Just because some of them act that way?
Yesterday, one of my children witnessed an exchange between a friend and a police officer. According to my child’s story, this police officer overreacted. (I can’t tell you the story, but I wish I could. I have to have some respect for my children’s privacy.) According to stories I’ve heard from my children–and things I’ve seen with my own eyes–teens are regarded with suspicion. Teens are judged (and misjudged) differently from those in other age groups. If there’s a car accident, it’s automatically assumed the teenage driver is at fault. If a group of teens walk into a convenient store, they’re regarded with suspicion and watched closely by the clerk. Teens aren’t considered reliable witnesses, and in a world where it’s-his-word-against-mine, the word of a teenager means nothing. Who would believe a teen over a teacher? A police officer? Or, a parent? No one.
This seems to be the general attitude in the community where I live. I hope it isn’t this way everywhere, but judging from posts I’ve read on Facebook, comments I’ve read on news forum threads, comments I’ve heard on radio talk shows, and comments I’ve heard from real live people, teens in the United States seem to be regarded with distrust. Many US malls have implemented a policy where teens are not allowed to be there after 6:00PM without a parent or guardian. Police officers are assigned to middle-schools, high-schools, teen dances, and libraries during after-school hours. While I appreciate the extra security, I can’t help but feel these policies are put in place not only to protect our teenagers, but to protect us from them.
These are some of the comments I’ve heard: “Teenagers today have no respect or appreciation for anyone,” or “We’re raising a generation of delinquents,” or “All these teenagers do is play on their cell phones and ignore the world around them.”
Yes, I’ve watched the news–teens and young adults involved in shootings, theft, gang activity, sexting. I know it happens. But, where are the stories about teens who have gone out of their way to help others? Teens who plunge into a freezing cold lake to raise money for the Special Olympics? Teens who work in soup kitchens on Thanksgiving? Teens who are active in church and community organizations? Where are those teens in our news stories? I know they exist–I’ve met them.
Why do we lump all teens under the broad category of “these damned teenagers?”
Do you want to know how to turn an entire generation into unreliable, irresponsible criminals? Treat them like unreliable, irresponsible criminals. If you expect teens to be delinquents, a good percentage of them will work hard to live up to your expectations. Either that, or they’ll use your poor expectations as an excuse for their bad behavior. Show them they aren’t trusted, and they will exhibit untrustworthy behavior. Tell them all teenagers are lazy, ungrateful druggies, and they will assume there isn’t any point in striving for anything better. Expect the worst–and you’ll get it.
Can we as a society do a better job in raising our teenagers? Absolutely. But, in addition to instilling good moral values, disciplining children when necessary, and supervising them a little better, maybe we should raise our own expectations. If we expect this generation of teens to be the rising stars of this century, they’ll live up to it. They’ll cure cancer, stop world hunger, and save the environment.
Expect the best–and you just might get it.