January 2002
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What Adults Should Know About Teens
By Julia Klassen, SNN Senior Editor,
Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

Dear Julia,

You look in the mirror and see greying hair and wrinkles appearing and you hardly recognize yourself. Remember me? I'm your former self – the one who walked through those high school doors long ago, eagerly awaiting the experiences and lessons that lay ahead.

The first big exam came in Sr.1, and you stood in the hall nervously waiting and preparing for the unexpected. Sr. 2 brought with it a drivers'-license appointment on that blustery March day. In Sr. 3, you faced your first date and all the excitement of preparing for the perfect evening. Then, at the end of Sr. 4 came the day everything had been building up to – graduation!

Do you remember your moments of fear, nervousness, hope, laughter, and tears? I hope your many years in the so-called "real world" have not caused you to forget. That's why I'm writing this reminder. Being a teenager is one of the hardest times of life but it can also be one of the most rewarding. I want to remind you of all you learned and of what you should not forget.

First, you recall that as teens we are trying to figure out who we are and what we think. Our opinions are strong, but not always wrong. It is during our teen years we make the formative decisions that may shape the rest of our lives. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. The important thing is to focus not on these mistakes but rather on what we can learn from them. Often, we learn more from our failures than from our success. As an adult, remember to offer your wisdom, experience, and guidance to the young people around you. They need your help to make the world a better place.

Second, if you want to know what young people are thinking, or why they're doing something, please ask! Don't just assume. They probably won't be quick to volunteer information on their own, so you may need to do a little detective work. Remember, they're looking for ways to express their individuality. Sometimes this means outrageous hairstyles, multiple piercings, or simply a messy room. Don't judge or stereotype us based on these things, but take the time to get to know what's deeper than the obvious.

Television and movies often give a negative view of teens, painting them all with the same airbrush. I hope you still remember that not all teens are troublemakers, that the majority of them do not smoke, drink, do drugs, have sex, or break the law. Teens are actually contributing positively in the towns and cities in which they live and are on their way to becoming the future leaders of society. The values of the young generation may be as good or even better than those in your past. As a just and caring generation, teens too are concerned about equal rights among men and women, racial discrimination, and violence. They are working to make a difference in this world; they want to build it up, not to tear it down.

Third, remember how much you loved going to bed late and sleeping in the next morning...and how rarely this was possible? The result of this was often staying up too late doing homework, then talking to your friends--on the phone or Internet--about the latest who-went-where gossip and all the homework that still wasn't done. In the morning, you would wake up exhausted, but read.

Julia, you've come full circle. When you look in the mirror, I hope you'll see past the greying hair and early wrinkles and keep your youth at heart. There is much that you remember; there may be much you don't. But if you can recall the lessons you've learned from experience, you'll have much to offer teens and may even be able to explain what teens need to know about adults.

Yours forever,