When I was a teenager, I felt very isolated. Unique story, I know… Just bare with me, okay?
I felt like no one understood what I was going through in large part because there’s this lie we tell kids about their youth being the best part of their lives. I thought my strife was out of place- either because I had people from one side saying “You don’t have bills, you don’t have sick parents, you don’t need to be stressing” and “Oh, YOU have it bad? Well here’s what I’m going through” from the other. People were consistently silencing my voice because of their own reasons, and eventually I learned to silence my own without their help. This story isn’t just mine, it belongs to almost every single person who has reached adolescence.
Here’s the problem: Since when did silence lead to change? Why is it we want young people (and then young adults and subsequently other adults as well) to refrain from sharing their emotions? Have you ever noticed eventually it turns from not sharing the negatives to not even sharing the good things in your life? I have to tell you, I have been shamed way more in this life for the things I liked versus the things I’ve hated or the things that have made me sad.
As an educator, I see this continuing in schools. Every day, young people are being silenced because we don’t have the time to help them manage, because there are other kids with bigger problems, because it’s inconvenient to listen, or because we deem their concerns and drama as trivial. Let’s face it: we adults are largely failing at this whole breaking-the-cycle thing.
I mean yeah, there are “appropriate” times and “inappropriate” times to be managing personal concerns and crises, but for the person going through those crises, that time is RIGHT now. I can’t tell you I’ve had years of experience as a teacher and know the cure, but what I can tell you is that as an adult who still remembers what it felt like to be told (in words or otherwise) that my opinion or emotions didn’t matter, that it is integral to allow space in schools, homes, churches, clubs, and wherever else we can for kids to be themselves.
Do I have the answers? nope. Do I have more than two decades of experience in life telling me that when human beings feel seen, heard, and supported that they step up in MAJOR ways? Hell yes. The people who have changed my life did so by meeting where I was and lifting me without judgement to where I was capable of succeeding or meeting a set goal. Most of them have been teachers, some have been friends. All of them have created change in more lives than just mine, and each of them did it as organically as taking the time to truly ask how I was doing. It might have taken a few extra minutes to listen, but man… those few minutes meant the world to me.
Here’s my challenge to you: Change a life. Be a listener. You might be surprised how fast your world changes too.