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

Listen And You Shall Hear?

Column: Something About Nothing  published in the Albert Lea Tribune and Courier Sentinel week of January 13, 2014

My granddaughter got a cellphone for Christmas. She is 11 and a very responsible young lady. I was excited because now I could text her and actually call and talk to her directly. I didn’t have to wait for the right time and for her to be with her father so I could talk to her.

My other granddaughter got an iPod with texting ability for Christmas. I was probably more excited than the girls were, because I didn’t have to rely on their parents anymore for communication with my granddaughters. Since they live hours away, I don’t have the joy of being a grandmother where my grandchildren can drop in for a visit on a whim.

I make sure I send a text in the morning wishing my granddaughters a good morning and I also send one at night. I always receive a response. Occasionally I add a cute little saying. As I was pounding out a message on the keys of my cellphone one day I thought about my childhood and my kids’ teenage years. I wondered how our young people today would tolerate the kind of communication that I or my children had.

I was a chatty child and I still am a chatty adult. My friends would call or I would call when we were in grade school. We only were able to talk for a few minutes before a neighbor would come on the party line and tell us they wanted to use the phone.

If a neighbor or an operator didn’t break in on us when we were having a long conversation we would become suspicious and listened for the clicks to see if we could hear anyone listening in on our phone conversations. We didn’t want to say anything that we didn’t want anyone else to hear.

That didn’t mean we didn’t think it wasn’t fun to pretend to hang up and be very quiet so we could listen to what are neighbors were saying. I know we are concerned now with our privacy, but back then there was no privacy either because everyone was snooping quietly on the telephone line.

I was lucky. I was an only child and the only people I had to compete with for wanting the phone were my parents, but in households with many kids and especially teenagers, they all had to compete for time on that one phone.

When my kids lived in our household we may have had more than one phone in the house but we didn’t have caller ID, so we didn’t know when the phone rang who the call was for. I still remember all the hollering up and down the stairs calling the person to the phone. We also were tethered to the phone. We did have the convenience of long cords, but we didn’t have the convenience of cordless phones. Now I can’t stand being tethered to a wall phone.

With cellphones, everyone in the household each seems to have their own. We can call, text, Facetime and whatever, without the others in the household knowing we are on the phone. We can get in touch with our kids wherever they are, if they answer the phone. Many times when I call my kids they don’t answer, but they answer their texts right away. When my grandchildren are teenagers and go out and about, my kids will be able to be in touch with them.

I can imagine the sleepless nights my parents had when I missed curfew. Maybe I can imagine my parents worry because I had kids that missed curfew or weren’t where they said they were supposed to be when I checked on them. Not only could I not check on them unless they were at a house that had a phone, I couldn’t look them in the face and give them the look to get the point across like we can do now with Facetime or Skype.

What about the wife that used to go on the day long shopping trip and didn’t want her husband to know what city and what shops she was in?

I think of the commercial that is out now for Fleet Farm and the Big Boys Toyland. The husband is going ice fishing and the wife is going to the spa. They could have tracked each other’s cellphones and not be surprised to find each other at Fleet Farm instead of fishing or the spa.

In the olden days that didn’t happen. I wonder how many bartenders back before cellphones wanted to rip the phones out of the wall to keep the wives from calling their husbands to come home. Now those wives have a direct line. Of course, it doesn’t mean the husbands answer or that the wives on a shopping trip don’t turn off their phone.

Life has gotten easier to track people down. We don’t have to wait for busy signals because now we have voicemail. We don’t have to lose our voice calling our kids to the phone and reminding them to get off of the phone because we need to use it. We don’t have to listen in on our neighbor’s phone conversations because they are probably having that conversation on Facebook, and they forgot to set their privacy settings so we can still snoop but with less of a chance at being caught. I must admit the phone game was still kind of fun back in the days.

Communication has gotten easier. I for one hope to use the texts I send to my grandchildren as a time to send them some positive vibes that may make their day a little brighter.

I wish I would have found the following positive quote earlier. I would have used it on my parents when they wanted the phone.

“Talking is always positive. That’s why I talk too much.” — Louis C.K.

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every