I was sitting with a group of (lovely) ladies a few weeks back and the topic of teenagers came up. Perhaps forgetting that I actually choose to work with this vicious species on a daily basis, they described them in less than complimentary terms. One lady piped up “Well, you must remember, we’re living in the age of the narcissist.”
I don’t necessarily disagree with her premise, but her accusatory tone made me feel surprisingly defensive of this generation that is both loathed and feared by much of society. Teenagers, beneath their narcissism and behind the luminous screens of their smart phones, are precious individuals who are finding their way in the world and forging a new path for our future.
Teenagers hold our future whether we like it or not, and before we despair or shake our fists, we do well to look at where they came from. If a teenager is narcissistic, who did they learn it from? If they can’t function without technology, who gave it to them? If they are undisciplined or entitled or lacking respect, who is the generation who raised them?
The last thing that teenagers need is our condescension. They are not the enemy, and if we treat them as such we draw battle lines for a war that will have no victor. Teenagers need the love and support of society. They need freedom and boundaries, encouragement and discipline. Our condemnation foolishly despises that which we, as a village, have raised ourselves.
Do you remember what it was like to be 6 years old and invited to a birthday party? You’d receive a brightly coloured fill-in-the-blanks invitation that told you where and when and came with the unspoken promise of cake and party bags!
The invitation carried with it much more though, than details and the promise of fun, it told you something even more special: You were chosen.
At some point, when your little 6-year-old friend sat down to write their birthday list, they put your name on it. It was a privilege to be invited.
I wonder how our generation has lost that sense of privilege. Is it that we have so many more friends and receive dozens of invitations? Is it that Facebook culture has introduced the ability to haphazardly invite all 756 of your ‘friends’ at once? Is that why we don’t want to commit until we know whether we’ll feel like it on the day?
I think it’s sad. I know when I invite people to something, it’s because of all the people I know, I chose them. I know that there are times when being invited can feel like more of a burden than a privilege, but I try to remind myself that, irrespective of who it is from, an invitation is always a privilege. An invitation means they thought of me, and they chose me.