I remember it like it was yesterday. My first client , Jason DeBusk, as a Medical Social Worker was an incredible teen with a fatal type of cancer. He handled it all with a wisdom and grace not given to many of any age. There he was, the larger than life football hero, sprawled on a hospital bed with a forlorn look belying his earlier strength and bravado. Somewhere from deep inside me a voice said “Jason, would you like to share your story with our youth group? I think you have something to say, to teach. others” He sat up in bed as if the life force was an IV to his soul. At this moment, the student, Jason became the teacher. Everyone he touched on this journey became his student, I mean doctors, nurses, family, friends and the entire city of Katy, Texas.
I have had the honor of working with and knowing many inspiring teens and adolescents, some of whom are now adults raising their own soon to be teenagers. I have to say one of the most disturbing comments I repeatedly hear is how awful teens are and how parents wish they could skip those years. I am not naive and yes, teens struggling to express independence challenge our patience and at times frustrate and overwhelm us, but really the alternative of having something happen to your teen is far worse.
The lessons learned from teens are invaluable. They are the ones who challenge authority, sometimes for the better! If we listen carefully to the voice of a teen, they question “why” a rule exists or “why” something can’t be changed? How many of us as adults critically consider why something is what it is and dare to face a status quo and change it? That’s the energy and passion of a teenager!!! Not as fearful of risk and consequences they often enter blindly and passionately into any situation an adult would reason themselves out of. An adult might say never question authority and a teen might say what if the authority is wrong. That is how Jason took on cancer, not accepting his diagnosis at first, then meeting it head on and helping others at the same time.
Teens also see love and relationship through the eyes of passion. Yes, this causes many of us as adults to think immediately of sex and fear of pregnancy, and there is another perspective- connection! How many times do we see “packs of teens” heading off to do something together? There is a sense of community and having each other’s backs that is prominent at this phase of our development that some of us lose as adults. Why? We still have the same human need for others to “watch out for us,” yet somehow fierce independence is somehow glorified. Frankly, I think the teens have something on us adults!
Finally, there are a lot of teens who dare to dream. Recently, I was so impressed with a young girl who expressed at a public assembly “I am going to be top of my class at Stanford” most adults would hesitate to set such a lofty goal and express it publicly. Why? When did dreams become “unrealistic?”
On my 54th birthday, I am grateful for my life lessons learned from teens. Ask yourselves these questions:
1. Are you true to your values even if it means challenging authority?
2. Do you have a sense of community?
3. Are you following a dream? Take three steps today towards a wish you have and celebrate the teenager you can always be!
Along with others, I am co=producing a movie triumphing the life and death of this amazing teen. It is really a story of compassion, questioning the odds, playing your best hand to the last moment and grace. Grant us the grace of the pack, of coming to terms and sharing our gifts with others.