The Wisdom of Teenagers

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf Published in the Albert Lea Tribune on September 6, 2018

sprinkled ColumnMany kids these days don’t know the song called “School Days” written in 1907. I’m not that old, but my mom loved the song as she was a teacher. The first verse went something like this: “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days, readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Today I think the “hickory stick” would be considered child abuse if I get the meaning right, which to me meant if you didn’t behave you got the hickory stick. During the time I was in school, it wasn’t unusual for a nun to rap a child’s hand with a ruler — I was scared to death to speak in case the ruler would be directed at my hand. I know that is hard to believe since I am a chatty person but my parents at conferences always heard that I needed to speak up, raise my hand and answer questions.

In high school it wasn’t unusual for someone to have to bend over and grab their ankles if they were misbehaving, especially from one teacher. We all loved this teacher, and though it happened I don’t know that any hard feelings linger. It also wasn’t unusual to hear someone had been slapped or berated and yelled at in the principal’s office. And if those things happened, our parents were even tougher on us at home.

It is 2018, and the word on the old people street is that kids have changed. It is harder to teach because kids are more disrespectful, teachers can’t discipline and teenagers are out of control. I dislike when we lump all kids and teenagers together. I happen to love teenagers. They have always been my favorite group to work with. I love their honesty, how they keep us honest and real because they call us adults out occasionally in our behavior, and they do have wisdom beyond their years. Their world is much different than the world I grew up in. Teenagers today deal with social media, broken homes, academic pressure and also problems such as bullying, homelessness, LGBT issues, suicide, and stress.

One morning this past summer, I followed my church youth group’s media page as they traveled to the National Youth Convention in Houston, Texas. I was surprised and impressed with the posts of one young lady called Aly. She was very insightful, so I decided I wanted to know more about her interactions at this convention.

This is the post which caught my eye: 

Have you ever had communion @ mass with over 30,000 people? We have! day 5//we started off the day with Sunday morning mass, where we praised the Lord one last time with the ELCA groups from around the country. On the way to church in the morning, my mom & I met this amazing lady. She was originally born in New Jersey, but now lives in h-town. When my mom asked who she lives here with, the first thing she said with a big smile on her face was “no one, I travel with God”. I instantly knew this chat with her would be one of the most powerful things I will experience on this trip. We started off talking about how we were going to have a church service with over 30,000 young people who have come across the country. The conversation only developed & got deeper from there. Some things she said that has stuck with me are:
“I travel with God’s grace everywhere I go”

“We the people are the church, I take it w me everywhere I go”

“I just enjoy the fight (of life), if you don’t like the fight then you’re not gonna make it here very long”

“Anyone trying to take down your faith is the devil”

“I am the spirit of my dreams”

“You’ve gotta strut because Jesus is the only way in (to heaven)”

These are just a few. To most of you, this may just seem like this was just an ordinary small talk conversation. But it left both my mom & I in tears when my mom told her that I am her daughter, the lady looked @ me & said: “& shes your strength”. It made us both cry. but the EXTREMELY ironic thing about this conversation with this woman was that what she was preaching to us was EXACTLY what the speakers @ the youth gathering the previous night before were saying. The speakers just kept repeating how WE are the church & those were the exact words this woman said to us. She was so into our conversation she ended up missing her stop, but she was so content about it. She said, “That was God’s work, this conversation is happening for a reason”. @ that moment I knew I had seen God already that day. Another thing we told her was that a speaker the previous night had said, “We just need more love in this world”, but this woman told us that there is already PLENTY of love in this world right now, people just need to learn how to share it. This woman will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life

 

 

I decided to interview Aly. I asked why she chose to go to this convention. She explained her pastor wanted the youth to start helping people, learn more about themselves and God. Aly’s faith changed during confirmation classes, and her mentor was a big part of that. She learned that talking about faith wasn’t something to be ashamed of.

Aly didn’t know what to expect of the convention. The speakers had an impact. She stated, “There wasn’t a time I didn’t have goosebumps. We had speakers who addressed what we are going through in our lives and touch us every day, things we don’t address in our smaller churches and these problems are our world, too, and it helps us understand what is happening and how God connects us to love others.”

We don’t often have homeless people on the streets of Wells or Albert Lea. They are there but hidden, and that was one of the other takeaways for Aly from being in a larger city.

“People were on the streets with blankets and some had tents, just random people, women, and children, too. I learned to not be scared while doing some mission work. They aren’t bad people. They have suffered some bad circumstances.”

Aly is one teenager who chose to speak out on her learning experiences of that which is different and that which expanded her faith. There was 30,000 youth at this convention. Other churches have conventions and mission trips teaching teenagers of a different world than the one they live in. It expands their humanity, their world and their vision for the future.

When I asked Aly what else helped move her faith forward one of her answers was CRAVE. CRAVE describes itself as a party with a message of purpose. CRAVE was started after a friend of the co-founder died of suicide. CRAVE came to our community this summer.   One of the comments of one of the speakers still stands out in Aly’s mind. The statement was from a former drug dealer and he said, “My first job was being a drug dealer, and now I don’t deal drugs, I deal hope.” It reminded her people are going through struggles in faith, in living and relationships, and there is hope. She hopes to carry that hope into the future.

I like to listen to what teenagers have to say about the way we adults interact with them, so I asked what our small-town churches can do for our teens today. Aly suggested our small-town churches need to address the subjects our teenagers are struggling with today, which were addressed at the ELCA youth gathering.

After listening to not just Aly, but other teenagers, I feel we, as adults, need to address these issues from the pulpit and offer tools and support for them. We need to offer acceptance rather than judgment, so they feel the church is a soft place to fall in times of trouble — a community of all ages to guide them through their challenges. We need to not sweep what is happening in today’s society and what we perceive as large-city problems under the rug and never talk about the elephants in the room. We have the same issues in smaller communities; we may choose to ignore them because of fear or lack of understanding or hoping by ignoring they will go away.  Teenagers are not alien or bad; they are teenagers with vast wisdom — which may be different than an adult but wisdom non-the-less — and they want to be heard.

Teenagers may not always go about getting our attention the right way, but underneath the lashing out are real feelings. We need to see beyond the actions and hear the unspoken words. They are our future.

“We need space to discuss unspoken, uncomfortable dark truths.” —Janet Mock

Don’t Let Fear and What-If’s Change Your Behavior

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

posted the week of July 9, 2018 in the Albert Lea Tribune and The Courier Sentenel

 

Growing up in a small town I felt a sense of safety most of the time. It was during my childhood I learned about the “what-ifs” of life. It was taught to me unknowingly by my mother. She had no idea her anxiety about the evils of the world lent itself to my childhood fears.

Of course I was scared of the dark. What child isn’t? That was not anything my mother worried about. She worried about my health — what if you eat that and you get sick? She worried about my having an accident —what if you go with another family and they are in a car accident? And she worried about someone snatching me even if in those times kidnapping wasn’t a well-known problem.

We lived by the railroad tracks, and it wasn’t uncommon for hoboes to stop by and ask for money or food. They would often talk to my uncle when he was across the street with the horses or cows in the pasture. I was never allowed out when they were near. I was told they might kidnap me, and my parents would never see me again.

Gypsies were someone else to be afraid of in those days, at least from what I garnered from my mom. I was told they stole kids and did terrible things to them. I was terrified. I remember one time when I was home alone with my wheelchair-bound grandmother — I was around 9, a woman who dressed somewhat like I thought a Gypsy would dress, came to our door. I was afraid to go to the door. I opened the inside door but left the outside door latched.

The woman wanted to know if my mother was home. Of course I didn’t know what to answer. She wasn’t, but did I tell the woman that? The woman tried to get me to come outside, but I refused. She finally went away, but I was scared the rest of the day with visions of me being pulled out of the house and stolen.

Another time while in kindergarten, my mom wasn’t on the corner where she usually met me to walk me uptown to my dad’s store. I was terrified, because of the anxiety of what-ifs that mom wasn’t there. What if she had an accident? What if someone kidnapped me off the street?

Having been taught by a loving overprotective mother about what-ifs, my life continued and still does to this day to be fraught with scenarios when presented with something out of the ordinary or scary — scenarios that the majority of the time never come to pass but in my mind they are bigger than life and make me react out of fear to a situation, rather than thinking it through and coming to a sensible conclusion.

Right now I am in a book study which helps us confront our what-ifs and it is helping me immensely overcome those messages. But the vibes and messages of what-ifs and fear unknowingly sent to me in my childhood by my mother have had lasting consequences.

The other evening I attended a community meeting. A Level 3 sex offender is moving to my community onto a street with many children, close to parks and near the school. The community meeting was to give us information to make our community stronger and to alert us what to watch out for when it comes to our neighborhoods and children.

I thought it was well presented and felt the monitoring system in place was well thought out, along with the fact, well known in a small community, we all know what our neighbors are doing before they know it. We look out for each other. But the level of panic and anger outweighed any information attained to help us deal with the situation.

The “what ifs” were rampant. “He’s going to rape someone.” “What happens when he kidnaps one of my children?” “My son won’t be able to ride his bike safely to the pool anymore.”  “My children won’t be safe in their own yard.” “He’ll grab a child and put them in his car and we’ll never see them again.”

The tears fell, the anger built and some were out of control with their accusations. Some blamed our law enforcement for letting this person move into our community but the law is the law and they had no say in the decision.

I experienced something similar when my children were growing up in a different community from where I live now. The difference is the person hadn’t been caught yet and lived next door to me in a very old house. As neighbors, we watched as the men in the house enticed middle age school children to their home. I watched one day as one took a knife to another’s throat. The entire neighborhood was concerned, and we worked with the local police. This was a person detrimental to children but because he had not been charged, etc. we received no warning he was moving in.

Our neighborhood banded together. We calmly talked to our children. We took to the street. By that I mean, the kids went out into the street to play and we adults went out with our lawn chairs when we saw activity we were suspicious about at the house. We could track everyone coming and going because we were having neighborhood picnics. Soon, the neighbor moved because we were interfering with his activities. Soon after he moved he was arrested.

Were we angry? Yes. Were we scared for our kids? Yes. Were our kids scared? No. They were not scared because we worked together and the neighborhood did not show our children our fear.

We have a Level 3 sex offender coming to our community. We should be worried. We should be upset. We should have a plan, and we should be watchful. What we shouldn’t do is let our fear and what-ifs change our behavior so we teach our children that fear. Our fear should not be so out of control that it makes us act irrationally because that could have dire consequences not just on our future, but on the future of our children.

We as a community have to work to put safeguards in place to make our children safer and stronger. We need to work with local law enforcement to change laws in our community and with our legislature so offenders are not put within a close distance to day cares, schools and parks. In the meantime, new community residents need to know that small town residents watch out for one another. They care. Remember the “Sesame Street” song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” In my community we know the answer to that question.

Embrace Your Differences

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune the week of April 9, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

IMG_0300I was getting ready to meet my grandchildren, one of whom is a teenage granddaughter, and I wondered if I would pass muster and dress appropriately so I wouldn’t embarrass her. I know she used to enjoy my quirky and colorful clothes, but that was when she was little and wasn’t as aware of what her peers were doing.

To be fair to her, she has never acted embarrassed about introducing me to anyone, especially her friends. I happen to love her teenage friends because they are so respectful and fun to be with, but I wonder if silently she may question my choices.

I have toned down what I wear in the last year or two. I must admit, I haven’t felt as if I was myself in my senior adult clothes choice, which is what is expected of someone my age. I tried to conform again.

Recently with all the hoopla surrounding Kelly Ripa and Brooke Shields and the criticism for wearing bikinis at their age, I thought long and hard about my choices. No, I do not plan on trying a bikini — I never looked good in them, but I happen to think these two women looked beautiful. It is their choice to choose what they wear at their age and not our business.

When I changed my natural hair color and went red a few months ago, I did have to endure comments from people who thought the drastic changing of my hair color was terrible. I got many more compliments than criticism, but it is the criticism that stayed with me.

My mom wasn’t a dresser and did not take good care of her looks. I know now she just didn’t have time, and clothes were not important to her. Although recently finding pictures of her in her early 20s, I realized at one time she had style and her clothes were beautiful. Somewhere in her busy life, she lost all that. I must admit, at times I was ashamed of the way she dressed and the fact she had bobby pins keeping her hair in place long after bobby pins were fashionable. I was a teenager, and it wasn’t my friends who gave me a hard time about how my mom dressed. It was other adults such as relatives and neighbors. They would ask me as a teenager and especially as an adult why I didn’t do something. As a teenager, I didn’t know what to do and as an adult, instead of not seeing dementia taking hold, I tried to help, but to no avail. The bottom line is I should not have been ashamed. That was who she was.

Recently, I acquired some bright clothes with wild patterns, and they really are me. The first time I put on a wild pair of pants my husband asked, “You aren’t really going out in that are you?” I proudly replied, “Yes, I am.”

I was told to dress brightly for a small school play I was involved in by Retired Senior Volunteers. I wore my bright clothes everywhere that day. I smiled all day; I felt like me.

I have a cousin who I got to know when she was a teenager. She is now an adult, a mother, and a beautiful person. Her mother, who I love, lamented during her daughter’s teenage years that her daughter liked to shop at thrift stores when they had more than enough money to buy the best of clothing. This teenager went on to college and earned a degree or two and first was going to be a lawyer or a doctor and follow in her family’s footsteps. But she knew this life wasn’t for her, and now she works for the DNR at a lower wage than she would have made at one of the other careers.  She lives in a beautiful state, tracks wildlife (yikes wolves) and works on sustaining our environment. She followed her own path. She knew early on who she was. She knows her value and is happy with her choices.

This is my advice for the teenagers in my life and in yours. God made us all different. We come in all different shapes and sizes. We like different things and have different personalities. Embrace that. Why would God make us each different if he wanted us to try and all be the same?

As a teenager, follow your style and don’t wear clothes just because they have a certain designer label or because you feel you need to look like your friends. A true friend will embrace that. Be you. Be different because God made you uniquely you. Celebrate it. Don’t let anyone make you feel you are less smart or less beautiful because you are smaller, bigger, look different or have flaws. Those flaws are all part of the wonderful you. Live your life. Take it from an adult who didn’t learn these lessons until I got old. Making choices to accept who you are in the noise of the world will be your pathway to a more peaceful life. If we were, all the same, it would be a dull world.