12 Years: A Reflection on What Teens Have Taught Me

I have spent the past 12 years serving youth through various roles with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. And tomorrow, Friday December 12th, 2014 is my last day.

199231_1929851528981_4483310_nDuring the weeks leading up to this day I have caught myself reminiscing about my experiences over the past 12 years. I reflect on how I started at a local Club in Holland, hired as a part-time summer program assistant. I reflected on the over 500 hours of training I have facilitated for youth workers across the country. I think about all the amazing teens I have had the privilege to get to know and connect with. I look at my kids, and hope they grow up to resemble the many qualities, passions and talents that David, Miguel, Allie, Kiana, Yousif, Jessie and DeQuan embody.

Most of all, I think about the passion that has grown inside of me for teens today. I have come to be fascinated by teens, encouraged by teens and at times confused by teens. But most of all I have come to have a great respect for them today.

Here are just a few things I have learned about teens over the last 12 years.

Teens are at a point in their life where they are trying to find themselves. They are searching for identity and to be known. If you, as a caring adult in their life, offer praise and recognition towards the positive choices they are making, you can help them find a sense of self.

Teens most often go with the crowd, no matter how much they want to be their own person. I have seen this time and time again both for positive and negative. Help the teens in your life find a group of peers with common interests that are making good choices.

540060_10101917500530384_1451115576_nTeens will remember you. They will remember how you treated them, what you talked about, and most importantly how you made them feel. Treat teens with respect and like they are the greatest person in the world. I will never forget an experience I had in 2012 at our National teen leadership conference. There were over 1,500 teens in attendance, and I had only interacted with a few of them prior to that weekend. There was one group of teens from Oakland County Michigan, with whom I had the privilege to interact with a few times when I had visited their Club and met them at a previous conference. I will never forget the first time I saw them at this National event. I came around a corner and the whole group of teens ran to me and surrounded me with a huge group hug. I did not expect them to remember who I was, let alone embrace me in this fashion.

Teens can take a while to realize they are making the wrong choices. Over my 12 years as a youth worker I have heard it often said that we are like farmers planting the seed. We may not see the fruits of our labor at first. I can still remember teens I worked with at the Local Boys & Girls Clubs. I spent countless hours each week for years trying to guide them to make positive choices. Only to be left disappointed time and time again. But years later I have seen fruits of my labor. I have heard stories and seen glimpses of the seeds that we had planted years before through teens growing up and making positive choices for their lives.

Teens do not experience fear the same way adults do. I am not saying they are absent of fear, but often the lack of life experiences is a blessing that allows them to excel. I have met countless teens who have seen a justice issue and taken steps to stop it. I have met teens who have started their own non-profits, businesses, engaged with national leaders and raised thousands of dollars to help others when they themselves have had little. I think we as adults often second guess ourselves or have been told “no” too many times. It hinders us from even trying at times. I think we can learn a lot from teens.

There are a lot of GREAT adults who truly CARE about teens. In recent years I have 381353_327985800548032_1383409725_nfound my passion to be training and building up youth workers to help guide teens to realize the potential they have to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. At every corner I turn I find adults who are committed, focused and having huge impact on the teens they serve. Staff like Hashira, Laurie, Ray, Liza, LaKetta, Mike, Lori, Gabe, Molly, Kristin and Johnny just to name a few.

These are just a few of the many things I have learned about teens over the last 12 years and I cannot wait to see where my journey takes me next and what I will learn about teens next.

What have you learned about teens as a youth worker, parent, teacher, coach or youth minister?