Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Season of Giving

What's on the mind of a teen or young person?  What do they think about most days?  Is it school and making good grades?  Is it doing all the things your parents want?  Is it hanging out with friends and making new friends?  Is it securing that wanted job or internship?  Is it being the best at your sport of choice?  Is it how to handle stress and worry?  Is it how you could give back to someone or someplace less fortunate than you?  It could be a number of things.  One thing I have learned is that there is always something on the minds of teens and young people.  They are constant thinkers and constant observers.

Giving is something I don't believe teens receive enough credit.  I think "giving" is on their minds more than the adults in their lives realize.  I think the spirit of their giving gets lost in their dress, attitude, behavior and demeanor.  Sometimes the adults forget that the dress, attitude, behavior and demeanor generally reflects normal adolescent behavior and has no bearing on the giving nature of teenagers and young people.  There seems to be lots of talk about how teens are takers and not givers.  Talk about how they always seem to want something of personal benefit and resist listening to reason or compromise.  Talk about how they always seem to engage in selfish behavior. 

I don't believe there is enough talk about how giving teens and young people are in their actions and behaviors.  Spending time with a sick friend, either at home or in the hopital.  Spending time with a friend who may be experiencing challenges at home with a parent or other family members.  Spending time volunteering for an important cause, like a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or nursing home.  Spending time organizing clubs and activities which are of benefit to fellow students.  Spending time decorating the school building with holiday cheer.  Spending time exchanging cards and gifts to spread goodwill.  These are a few examples of deeds of teens who give for the positive benefit of another.  We, the adults in their lives, could probably do a better job of recognizing this spirit within our children.  We could probably do a better job of focusing more on the good that is being spread. 

This month of December is a time when society is reminded to give back in the spirit of the season.  No matter your personal beliefs, religious beliefs or otherwise, it is always a great time to "spread the good".  A good time to do for someone else.  A good time to experience the joy of "giving back".  A good time to share with others.  So, in this season of giving, may our teens continue to recognize the good in themselves and others and spread the spirit of this season of giving.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Break-up

The break-up.  I believe it was a movie starring actors Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn and it's all about what they experience with each other as they end their relationship.  I found it to be an entertaining flick, but that movie is not what I am referring to in this piece.  The break-up here refers to when teens who were once "in love" decide that they are no longer "in love" and thus break-up or stop going out or stop hooking up.  For the female teen she wonders if she was pretty enough, if she was skinny enough, if she was popular enough, if her hair was long enough.  For the male teen he wonders if he was handsome enough, if he had the right muscles in the right places, if he had the right moves on the dance floor, if he had the right clothes or if he had enough money to "flash around". 

The break-up can be devastating for many teens and young people.  They feel as if the world, as they perceive it, is coming to an end.  Life, as they perceive it, will not get better.  What to do?  How to react?  What to say?  How to respond to that person that is no longer the boyfriend or girlfriend?  Do you speak when you see him or her in the hallway or at the party?  Will he or she tell some secret that you shared when you were "in love"?  That feeling that you will never meet someone else who you will like or love, that you don't want to talk to anyone else on the phone or that you don't want to hang out with friends, go to parties or even concentrate in school.  The first feeling of being in love, the first hug or the first kiss are all memorable moments for a teen, moments that will be recalled for years to come.  Falling in love as a teenager can bring overwhelming feelings that sometimes no one else matters, not family, not friends and at times, not even the individual.  You want to spend all your time talking to or being with that special person, that boyfriend or that girlfriend.  You are positive you will never feel this way about anyone again.

Part of being a teenager is learning to manage relationships and that includes boyfriend/girlfriend relationships.  Spending time with someone and getting to know them and sharing experiences are all part of growing up.  Teens like to spend time with others their age.  They like to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, someone they can talk about to friends, family and foes.  It's almost a rite of passage.  Many feel that without a girlfriend or boyfriend, something is missing in the teen experience.  When that part of the teen experience ends, for whatever reason, it tends to leave a void,  that feeling of "something missing".  Depending on how dependent the teen became on that particular relationship, usually determines the response to the break-up, which can be anger, sadness, depression or maybe mutual understanding and agreement.

Teens and young people need to understand several things.  We all endure break-ups, some good and some not-so-good.  Girlfriend and boyfriend relationships come and go.  Break-ups are part of the process of developing you, and there is no handbook to tell you what to do.  For most of you, you have to figure out what to do on your own.  Not even your parents have given any guidance on how to understand, accept and endure.  You will meet many people in life and some may become your boyfriend or girlfriend and the relationship will probably end, sometimes of your prompting and sometimes not.  Sometimes you may understand the break-up and sometimes you may not.  It's okay to feel sad and maybe even upset over the loss of a certain type of relationship.  Understand that the experience will help in your life development.  It will help you to realize the type of person you are, what you like and what you may not like.  It will help you to make decisions about what is important to you and what is important for your life.  Long-term boyfriend/girlfriend relationships during the teen years can bring unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Trying to live up to the "image" of what you think the relationship should be like, based upon what you hear and see about others sets a high standard, one that is almost impossible to reach.  Break-ups are not the end of the world, even if it feels as such.  If you find that you are having a really hard time adjusting to a break-up, talk to an adult, teacher or social worker.  Understand there will plenty of time in your life for relationships and break-ups.  Enjoy your teen years.  Get out of the house, hang with friends, spend time with family you may have neglected, investigate a new sport or hobby.  Most importantly, spend some time reflecting on what you liked about the relationship, what you didn't like about the relationship, make any adjustments necessary, learn from the experience and embrace the break-up as a part of the education called life.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Fight?

Why fight?  With this question, I mean "physically" fight.  A question I and many adults have asked teens countless times, especially if one spends a good amount of time around young people and teens.  Why fight?  It seems like a simple question, yet it rarely yields a simple answer, usually when asked to a young person.  Why risk being injured, bruised, ridiculed by peers, suspended, arrested or even killed? (SEE GONE TOO SOON, PARTS I & II)  These are examples of serious consequences to fighting and yet teens don't seem to stop and think about the seriousness of their actions when they opt to fight.  What is the fighting about?  Is it for some sort of credibility or reputation, a way to get attention from peers, a sign of your toughness or because you see many adults engaging in fighting and without any significant consequences?

Yet again, I find another example of young people and teens receiving mixed messages from the adults around them.  In fairness, they see adults fighing at home, in their communities and on TV.  They see adults cheering when a fight occurs and sometimes cheer harder when someone is hurt.  What's the message they get?  That it's okay to solve your anger, frustrations, problems or any emotion or feeling that doesn't make you feel good with fighting?  That somehow the fighting will make everything better or more perfect?

I see young people and teens fighting at school, in malls, on the street, at athletic events, on the street, on public transportation.  I try to talk as much as possible to teens to share my experiences and give them a bit of insight about how important it is to make good choices and decisions and also to hear about their experiences and gain ALOT of knowledge and insight from them.  When it comes to the issue of fighting, I ask if they truly believe that fighting is worth the potential outcome?  Is it worth possbily altering the course of your life, either temporarily or permanently?  Is it worth risking losing your freedom because you have been incarcerated, college scholoarship, job or school placement.  Even more importantly, is it worth it to disappoint your parents or to cost them pain, anquish and finances if you happen to get arrested.  I also seize every opportunity to remind them that school and getting the best education possible is the most important responsibility and if you engage in fighting, you risk losing all of that, that which is so valuable that no price tag would be appropriate. 

I try to offer some possible alternatives that I will share here.  Some are receptive and want to hear them and some are not.  Some believe that fighting doesn't solve problems and some do not.  Some understand that fighting can lead to serious consequences and some do not.  Some understand that just because an adult is doing it (fighting) doesn't make it right and some do not.  I tell them this:  Before you start fighting, try to negotiate something different, something fair, something everyone can agree upon.  Offer some reasonable compromises, that benefit both persons.  Try to imagine several possible alternative solutions to fighting.  Think about the probable consequences, from suspension to serious bodily injury.  Try to understand why you are mad enough to want to fight and decide if its worth it.  Remember that it is okay to agree to disagree on an issue.  Try and get help from an adult who can help you to figure out a response other than fighting.  A few things that I share with young people and teens.  Some listen and some don't.