Originally published as a column on July 8, 2019 on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News.

I was driving through the downtown, down 4th Avenue when I got startled by yelling and hand-waving coming out of a car parked on the side of the street. A bunch of teenage girls in an SUV were trying to get people to let them join traffic, making silly faces and acting in a rather annoying manner.

It would have been too easy to roll my eyes and say ‘Ugh, teenagers…’. After all, I have seen grownups acting in awful ways while in traffic or making rookie mistakes.

I have also heard plenty of stories of teenagers acting in responsible ways, from driving within the speed limit to relying on designated drivers when leaving a party, to working hard to be able to afford a car. While it is true that many individuals that belong to the same population group may share some characteristics, painting them all with the same brush would prevent us from seeing the good parts and, on the other hand, it would not help address the bad parts.

Since my eldest became a teenager I have been told countless times that it must be challenging being around him. I’d shrug and smile. Parenting is never a job for the faint of heart, and it’s not a fair-weather commitment either. It’s as magical as it is challenging, and a grow-yourself-into-a-better-person kind of challenge for us parents too.

Teenagers are at a time in their lives when much is happening in terms of learning about themselves and identifying their own likes and dislikes in the context of the teenage culture (which our consumeristic society offers plenty of, at a price of course.) I have mixed feelings about labeling age groups, as I think that labeling in general creates part of the problem and prevents us from seeing the things that need our attention.

A recent opinion column about the benefits of teenagers having summer jobs elicited a bunch of comments. Some readers agreed that it is a good thing, a few said it’s also good to make room for having fun because life is about work anyway, and quite a few went on bashing teenagers in general: that they have no work ethic, that all they want is to be on their phones, that they are entitled and do not care about anything else but having their parents pay for things and that they are not able to keep jobs anyway.

Many of those things are true, not just for teenagers though, and so is the fact that each person is different, no matter their age. Every big-eyed, innocent baby that melts our heart will grow into a teenager. The way we carry ourselves as adults around them, and the way we parent them, the way we decide on boundaries and reinforce them, they will all contribute towards the little ones morphing into resilient, caring people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on them too. They ought to develop a sense of responsibility. We can guide them to see it but we cannot it build it for them. They are the ones who must work at it.

To label all teenagers as a population group as ‘persona non grata’ is a mistake though. I believe they stand a better chance to grow into responsible adults if see them each as their own person.

There are news stories showing the awfulness of teenagers and many of us will build their opinion based on that. But there are also the stories that show a different side, and many of them do not reach the media. They show that our growing children do not become heartless and cold as they enter the teenage years; that they are in need of belonging and attachment, and while they gravitate towards same-age people, they still take to heart much of what is coming at them from us adults, even when they seem to be oblivious to it. That they need us to be part of their lives as they encounter the ups and downs each day comes with.

Recently, my son and some of his friends went to an event that was, for most of them, the saddest yet. One of their friends passed away suddenly a week ago. The sad news reached them quickly via social media and I got to see some of the most heartfelt tributes as they were grappling with the sudden loss of their friend. Those who attended the celebration of life, which took place out of town, organized rides and made sure to wear his favourite colour in honour of him. I was struck by how open they were as they processed the grief of losing one of their buddies at such a young age.

It is always a privilege to be allowed to see the softest parts of a kid’s heart. And in truth, when we treat them well, (not perfect, not coddled, not overindulged, but with as much respect as we expect from them,) they are not hiding those soft parts from us. In fact, they reveal them to us in various ways, and the glimpses into their world shows that it is everybody’s loss to apply stereotypes.