I haven’t always had the highest opinion of high school kids… probably in part because I didn’t like my own high school years very much… but also because I live very near our city’s largest high school and the kids are everywhere.
Over the past ten years, I’ve been judging them by how loud and obnoxious they are when they are on my bus in the morning, by how they always have their heads stuck in their phone when they’re crossing the street in front of my car, and by how they’re constantly swearing when my kids are in earshot.
Without knowing it, I have become a middle-aged woman who mutters judgmentally under my breath as I try to elbow my way though a gaggle of them. It’s really all I can do not to pull up the boys’ pants and wipe the make-up off the girls’ faces.
But… I’ve been wrong.
Yes, some of them are loud on the bus. Yes, they really do need to look up when they cross the street. And yes, it would be nice if they cursed less in front of small children. However, I have been spending a lot of time with these young adults recently and my opinion has been swayed.
Since January, I have been in five different area high schools, given multiple presentations at each one, and I’ve had my socks knocked off every time.
These students I’m talking to are polite, caring, and smart. I’ve been truly impressed by the compassion that they’ve shown me and the concern they shown for one another. They all listen to me speak… really listen… and then they ask truly intelligent questions.
Sure, there are the clowns who make a scene when they first enter the class, or the ones who show up halfway through the period, but the majority show nothing but respect for their teachers and each other. At this week’s school, one young man even offered to walk me back to the front door to ensure I didn’t get lost. He chatted amicably with me the entire time.
There are kids that stay to thank me afterwards even though it is going to make them a few minutes late for their after school shift at McDonald’s. They write me e-mails to tell me that my talk really helped them. And they ask me advice on how they can help their friends.
That might be the thing that has shifted my opinion the most… how often their questions are about helping their friends. These teens see their peers going through some serious stuff and it affects them a lot. Some of these kids are carrying some heavy shit around with them all day, and frankly, they are dealing with it pretty damn well.
In case any of the students I’ve been speaking to ever find their way to this post, let me take this opportunity to say thank you… Thank you for letting me into your space for a while and for showing me how wrong my mindset had become.
And please, excuse that middle-aged mumbler as she elbows her way through your crowd. She just doesn’t know you like I do.