Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do Teenagers Get a Bad Rap?

I have the opportunity to interact with teenagers virtually every day. The school year goes without saying, of course, and then there's summer school. Oh, and the incidental fact that my precious Addie is about to turn sixteen.

Yeah, I guess you could say I'm kind of an expert at the adolescent beast.

When people hear that I teach high school, I inevitably get some form of, "You must be very brave." The thing is, though ... nope. It's not bravery and it's probably not stupidity or masochism or any of the other negative stereotypes tied to teenagers.

Adolescents are young adults ... they are forming their moral cores, their values and beliefs, and learning the skills--both academic and real life--that will serve as the foundation for who they will be as adults.

Honestly, it's a true honor and privilege to be a part of that.

I was reminded of the bad rap teenagers get when I took the girls school shopping at Target the other day. We got binders, looseleaf, pens, pencils, and that sort of thing for Addie, then we got Belle some clothes. Addie a few shirts. Me a couple of things. Oh, and a birthday present for a party Belle was going to later that afternoon.

Anyway, our basket was pretty full. One of those weird ingrained things my mother passed on to me is the need to watch the cashier ring everything through. I've gotten double charged for things on more than one occasion, so I always watch just to be sure. Belle was clinging to my arm, but I suddenly noticed that Addie was nowhere to be found.

"Where's your sister?" I asked Belle.

"She went running outside," she replied with a shrug.

Just then, Addie came back into the store and walked over to us. She started putting the bags into the cart, and I couldn't help noticing that she was near tears.

I waited until we got to the car before I asked what was wrong because, like me, Addie is going to cry if she's close ... and she hates crying in public.

Basically what happened was that there was a woman with four children in the next check-out line over. One of her children was in a wheelchair, and she obviously had her hands full on many levels. When she went to leave, trying to push a wheelchair, balance a toddler one a hip, and keep track of two other kids, she forgot one of her bags at the cash register.

Addie saw what had happened, told the cashier she was going to catch up to the woman, grabbed the bag, and went running after the woman. The woman was extremely appreciative for Addie's help and thanked her very much.

The Target cashier? Not so much. She basically told Addie that she was wrong to do what she did and that it was basically stealing. Even though Addie's motives were obviously pure (the cashier saw her chase down the woman in the parking lot and hand the bag over), the message that my daughter got was that she was wrong to try to help someone out ... and that she was worthy of an assumption of guilt simply because of her status as a teenager.

Now, I hate helicopter parents as much as anyone. I cannot stand it when parents have this idea that their kids will always tell them the truth and go all Mama Grizzly when told that their child cheated on a test or something.

I also have no illusions that my children are perfect. I could easily write blog posts chronicling the negative sides of both my daughters. I don't do that because it feels wrong to me, but I am not one of those "my kids are perfect" parents.

This incident just really bothered me ... mostly because it really bothered Addie. I think this was the first time that she was unfairly judged by an adult, with the irony of course being that she was going out of her way to help a poor woman who would have had a hell of a time trying to get her kids all buckled in just to have to go back into Target to get a stupid bag.

There are bad teenagers, and I won't argue that. However, there are also bad adults.

Is it fair to judge all teenagers by a stereotype that, when push comes to shove, is really pretty unfair?