On my walk this morning I was thinking about teenagers and what an important time it is in their lives in relation to learning about love.
I’ve thought about teens as I pass them on my morning walks and notice whether they smile and say hello or ignore my greeting. Most often they smile. I’ve often thought to myself, they are just like anyone else, they simply want to love and be loved. Maybe they have been more on my mind lately because of Trayvon Martin. That sad story really has made me stop and think about how we view teens and the preconceived ideas we have about them and even how they present themselves. Have you ever been walking and come upon a group of teens? What was your reaction? Did you smile? Did you think about crossing the street? Did you instinctively wonder if you had your phone on you? Did you remember being a teen yourself?
I think that is vitally important, remembering what it was like to be a teen. I sure was one once and I absolutely had a way of presenting myself to the world and it didn’t include worrying about what the world (outside of my high school, of course) was thinking about me. You could ask my family, they certainly remember. They even at one point gave me a t-shirt that said, “I (heart) my attitude problem.” I’m sorry to say I loved that shirt!
I’m not sure though that anyone ever stopped and thought, “Hey, I bet she is just a person who wants to love and be loved.” I wonder if that would have changed anything. I bet it would have changed things for Trayvon that night. He might still be alive.
But my morning reflections were not about violence, they were about love. It struck me what an amazingly confusing and powerful time it is when you are a teen or even pre-teen. You are learning so much about love and sometimes with so little guidance and often without even knowing that is what the learning is about.
You are learning how to love in so many new ways. How do you love your parents and yet become independent of them? Is that possible without pushing them away? I know it is and have seen it happen but it takes partnership and a remembering of love. You’re learning whether or not your parents are capable of loving you while at the same time releasing you more fully into the world on your own. That I have found is both a struggle and an immense joy.
Can you love your friends even as you watch them make unhealthy decisions? Will they still love you if you choose differently? What does love even mean in friendship? Does it mean not crushing on the same boy or girl as your best friend? Where are the boundaries of love?
How do you moving into a loving (hopefully) romantic relationship without losing yourself? How do you love someone and still honor who you are in relationship? How do you love and not obsess? What if someone you love doesn’t love you back or stops loving you? How do you love in confidence and without fear? How do you love someone and want to be with them, but also be comfortable with whatever limits you might have on the sexual aspect of your relationship? Heck, does love even have to be related to sex? Yes, I think young people know more about sex than I did at their age, but I found myself wondering, "Oh my, do they know more about sex AND as little about love as I did at their age?" What a challenging combination that could be. Though I also have seen that the younger generation may also know more about love than I did. That gives me great hope for our future.
Most importantly though, how do you love yourself? How do you love yourself in a world so full of thoughts and images about who you should be or how you should be? How do you maintain that inherent sense of fairness and compassion you were born with when it’s not always reflected in the world around you? How do you look in the mirror with love and then look back at the TV or magazines? How do you be the truth of who you are whether or not others think it’s cool? How do you love yourself enough to even begin to know the truth of who you are?
The sheer number of questions that were raised in my mind as I thought about teens and what they have before them in terms of learning about love was staggering. And all these things they are learning or beginning to learn during that time, they will carry with them into their adult life, whether it is as joyful experiences or painful ones, happy memories or scars.
All those possibilities provide learning of course, but how much would it help with their learning if we met it with our love as an example? What impact would it have if we remembered that teens are people, just like you and I, who want to love and be loved, and then we interacted from that knowing? What difference would it make in the kind of adults they become? What impact would it have if we remembered more often, that they can be OUR teachers about love too? I’d like to think it would help create a more loving world for them and for their kids when it’s their turn to learn and teach about love.