Wednesday, March 14 was the National School Walkout.
It was a nationwide, student-led protest to press lawmakers for stricter gun control laws and a memorial to honor the lives of the 17 people killed on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School as well as countless others lives lost to school shootings.
I joined the kids at a local high school, and, wow! Just wow. It took me 30 minutes to stop sobbing. It has taken me another 24 hours to collect my thoughts.
While I work with teens every day, I realized yesterday just how powerful they are. I also realized that we are not doing enough to support them.
After the walkout, I spent time reading the comments posted on the images and videos of the walkout. While many commenters shared unwavering support for teens, there were as many that shared messages of disdain—even contempt:
“Why are they doing this? They aren’t old enough to understand.”
“They just want to get out of class. They don’t really care.”
“They were laughing. How disrespectful!”
“They are pawns of the adults who are scared to speak out.”
“They have been brainwashed.”
“What’s next? Walking out for abortion, for homelessness, for opioid abuse?”
“Teens are such a pain in the ass; they are the problem. They are the ones shooting the guns.”
That last one pushed me over the edge.
All too often, I hear comments like this:
“Teens are a problem.” “Teens are lazy.” “Teens are disrespectful.” “Teens are a pain in the ass.”
Teens are not the problem. Our relationship with them is. As a whole, teens are viewed as complacent, lazy, and apathetic. Sure, there are times they may embody that, but so do I when I’m laying on my sofa watching “Hoarders” when I could be writing another letter to my congressmen. I suspect that you have moments when you are doing the same.
Being present and understanding takes time. It takes time for adults, and it takes time for kids. It is critical to remember that teens are still young and trying to figure “it” out. And, that “it”? Well, it’s their everything: friends, school, dating, parents, jobs, sports, social media, college, tests, bullying, and peer pressure. It’s how they stay safe and feel they have a place in the world today and in the future.
One student shared, “We no longer count the days until we graduate because we are excited about what is next. We count the days until we graduate because we worry that we won’t make it.” At that same time, another looked away and back at their phone while chuckling.
Both responses are okay. Sometimes, kids know exactly how they want to behave and some will act goofy or laugh when they are uncomfortable with strong emotions, or not sure what is expected from them. Neither is wrong. It’s how they learn. They are still learning, and going through the motions in a flawed way is sometimes part of their learning. That is how they get the bigger picture.
It’s part of our learning as adults as well. Kids are sending us messages every single day about what they need from us. They need us to model the behavior we want to see in them. They need us to help them understand the “whats” and the “whys” behind things.
Think back to when you were a teenager, a vast majority of us were not in tune with the news or current events. We may have looked at events like the National School Walkout as an opportunity to miss class. Simultaneously, you may have witnessed something that upset you, or worried you, and felt helpless. The same holds true today, except teens are no longer accepting helplessness: they are standing up and speaking out about what they want and what they need. And, they need us—you and me—to both speak with them and stand with them. They need us to understand them, to hear them, and to see them.
So today, listen. Listen without jumping to conclusions. Listen without assigning a label. Listen to what teens have to say today, because when you listen you just may see that they are modeling the behavior we want to see in ourselves.
Bonus: Spotlight Interview
Author: Julie Smith
Image: @CathyClassical/ Twitter
Editor: Angel Lebailly
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron