If you want a little dose of faith in the future, ask eighth graders to describe themselves. This advice is counter-intuitive, because as a rule, 13-year-old humans are a negative, sassy little bunch. But when I recently did just this, the results made my day.
I asked a class of adolescents how they want to be seen by others, how they might want to be remembered, and what they really value. In other words, they were listing positive attributes only. Still, I was pleasantly surprised.
(Here's why: imagine gazing upon a sea of young, adolescent faces. You and I might use some of these adjectives to describe them: awkward, anxious, scared, smelly, weird, pouty, aggressive, un-formed, confused. I know for a fact many of these kids feel pretty unsure of themselves, much of the time.)
Their inventory began as we might predict:
Nice. Kind. Funny. Awesome.
Nothing too deep, nothing too thoughtful. But with a little time, privacy and encouragement, thoughtful lists took shape, including these gems:
Fantastic. Helpful. Generous. Patient. Clever. Gorgeous. Intrepid (okay, I helped with that one).
Strong. Faithful. Hilarious. Loyal. Creative. Clever. Wise. Friendly. Thoughtful. Majestic.
That's right -- majestic. A 13-year-old boy came up with that one, and he was proud of it. He knew it was kind of funny, but it also made perfect, real, logical sense to him. Deep down, he feels he is pretty majestic.
And he is, of course. They are; we all are. Majestic and noble and holy and teeming with potential and possibility. It is important, at the 13-year-old brink of adulthood (so much cynicism lies ahead!), to connect with the optimistic, hopeful, confident people living inside those gangly, pimply, emotional, hormonal teens. Do yourself a favor--if you live amongst such pubescent unpleasantness--and give them a chance to tell you what they like about themselves.
As I wrote about here, teenagers are full of hope, even when they try not to be. It is their job description, their birthright, and as much a part of their adolescent identity as the negativity and nastiness they cultivate so carefully. It's a tall order, parents--but when we help our teenagers tap into the things they like about themselves, they have a lot of great things to say (and they might accidentally notice the things they like about the rest of the world, too)!