A student of mine recently asked me why I care so much about young people. For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. How do you answer a question like that without sounding fake or cliche? I believe I answered with some basic response about understanding respect and the principles of caring, but I don’t think I understood the answer, until now.
Life is funny sometimes: you wake up, try to do the best you can, avoid getting stopped for speeding, avoid conflict with people, and do it all over again the next day. Sometimes you don’t have all answers. Sometimes the answers aren’t given at what you think is the appropriate time. This was one of those moments for me. This simple question led me to thoughtfully examine what my answer truly was and how we as educators, parents and other leaders can positively affect change in the lives of the young adults of today. What does this type of care look like? How do we live this out daily?
Listen, in my 12+ years of working with young adults I’ve seen what not caring looks like, and I don’t like it. I’ve heard young people talk about being lied to by people who are supposed to lead and guide them. I’ve seen intelligent, beautiful and talented people get caught up in the tangled web of drugs and alcohol. I’ve heard people gossip and slander each other right in front of their faces. I’ve heard the condescending noises and seen the eye rolling when I ask to do something simple but beneficial. I’ve seen kids put their hands on each other in rage and anger after they’ve felt trapped and let down. I’ve listened to tales of injustice, neglect and disrespect about the people who are supposed to be parents and guardians. I’ve seen the tears that are shed in the back corner or outside the walls of my classroom. I know that many of our young adults struggle with poverty, broken homes, depression and a host of other illnesses and negative circumstances. Many of our young adults seem to secrete apathy and blissful indifference wherever they go. Can you blame them?
The stark reality is that our young students all have so much to offer their school, their community, their nation, and their world. But unfortunately many of our young people have been lied to, disrespected, talked down to, ridiculed, written up, or laughed at so many times that they have a hard time believing that they really even matter to any one. Because of this, they often cannot realize or accept their possible contributions.
So how can we as teachers, parents, mentors, adults, peers affect the reality of the apathetic, disbelieving young adult? It’s actually quite simple. Find ways to actually talk and dialogue with your students. Find ways to connect with them. Find ways to make them understand that they do matter to someone. Find ways to help them see an issue from the other person’s perspective. Find ways to teach them to put their technology away for a few minutes to actually hold a face-to-face conversation with you or others. Find ways to teach them how to navigate the tumultuous world of adolescent hormones, social and family structures. Find ways to teach them to believe in themselves, maybe because they will know that someone actually believes in them.
Easier said than done. The challenge also lies in our perspective. What do we do with the young adult who refuses to talk, or lashes out in anger with harsh words about us? The perspective shift happens when we begin to practice patience, perseverance, passion, and positive perception. We must learn to look past the outside layers of anger, rage, isolation and fear in order to uncover the inner core of peace, love and acceptance that rests inside all of us. This belief should be the ever-present guidepost, lighthouse or cairn that reminds us to stay the course with our young people. Yes, we will most likely stray off course by our own fault or the fault of the young person. But we continue to press on for the happiness and success of those young people we influence, and in turn, become happy and successful ourselves.
And these are just one teacher from Pennsylvania’s experiences. What about the rest of the caring teachers, parents and leaders of the world? Why do we care? Why should we care? Maybe because someone has to do it.