Listen, I know my tendency to be a mama bear, so I’m trying to say this with as much grace as possible. We grown-ups have a problem. And I’m just going to call it out for what it is. We who will bend over backwards to defend and protect our own kids from cyberbullies have a harsh reality to accept.
We Are Cyberbullies
To kids. Or, more specifically, to teenagers.
For generations, adults have rolled eyes at the ignorance of youth. I get it. Social media brings an unwelcome ability to see impulsive behavior in real time. I know, I know. Teenagers have this worldwide audience now to all the impetuous things they do.
Teenagers are, as we know, adults-in-training. Research verifies the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around age 25. This is the part of the brain that controls impulse and decision-making. So, yes, technically, the brain of a teenager is underdeveloped.
But I have a growing desire to politely ask that we quit messing with our kids. That we quit saying things like, “bunch of losers” (actual comment on a cartoon mocking teenagers). Shaming someone is never an effective way to inspire him or her to greatness, although it is an effective way to intimidate or belittle someone. But it is not the path to light the fire under the next generation to be the leaders we want them to be.
You know what makes people want to do more and be greater than they are today? It’s inspiring them and conveying a support and belief in them. It’s telling them you see what they can be and kindly speaking of better ways to handle things. That’s what our teenagers need. That’s how we use social media to inspire the next generation. That’s how we treat youth with respect, as we demand respect from them.
Honestly, as a mom, I had no answer when my kid asked me why respect is expected for the teacher who announces the entire class should fear their test grade because my kid failed. Or for the teacher who told another student my kid is annoying.
“Why? Why is the standard for me to show respect when she acts so disrespectfully?”
When my teenage boys come home from work, I fluctuate between embarrassment and anger over how their customers talk to them. Can you keep in mind that these are TEENAGERS seeking gainful employment over other activities? They deserve a bit of courtesy. If not for my kids’ sake, then for your own child who’s watching how you treat them.
My eyes are opening to how we treat teenagers, and speak about and to them in public arenas. It makes me cringe. Because you are messing with my kids. Truthfully, you are messing with your own, too.
While I have three teenagers, I’m no expert. But I know a lot of teenagers, host them in my home, follow them on social media, interact with them, and try to be aware of what’s happening in their lives. I fully acknowledge that social media gives them a million ways to show their youthful ignorance or naiveté.
But Here’s Some Good News
In my own little corner of the world, I watched the crowd go wild with the announcement of the homecoming king. I quickly learned he was the beloved senior battling cancer. Those kids championed for him, even as he was losing his battle. At our high school, they started a “Hope Coming” campaign to raise money for clean water wells in Africa. When a freshmen was killed in a car accident, the kids organized a 5K run to raise money for scholarships in her memory.
The expectations on this generation for success are higher than I ever faced. From where I sit, they are killing it. They take numerous advanced-placement classes while staying involved in extracurricular activities, and some also hold down jobs. They are far more globally aware than I ever was at their age. Honestly, I don’t recall watching presidential election results until I was 27.
Yes, they can be reactive and harsh in their commentary on politics, but can we give them a nod for caring about government and world leaders? This is a generation with a passion for social justice that should be applauded. Whether you think a teenager should lead a gun control debate is really not the point. How about applauding him for the conviction to be part of change for the better?
Yes, some teens repeat what they hear without offering substance behind their opinions. But, there are also plenty who put thoughtful research into what might be tweaked for the greater good.
This is a generation that marches for the rights of the marginalized and the minority. They stand against racism and sexism and policies that neglect the refugee and the alien and the orphan. And they are on the receiving end of all sorts of ageism as they look around at what is happening and dare to care.
So Let’s Quit Shaming Them
Let’s quit name-calling and disrespecting. Let’s applaud them and listen to them. Let’s connect with them and guide them to sound decisions.
Let’s remember the immense pressure they are under. Let’s be their biggest cheerleaders. Let’s see their passion and enthusiasm and global awareness and heart for social justice. Let’s hold them to a high standard and tell them in every way that we believe in them.
I know a fair amount of teenagers. They are not perfect, but they are awesome. And if they aren’t quite as awesome as you’d like, tell them that you believe they can be.