What I Know about Teenagers

Updated: Jul 14

I don't want to sound like I'm an expert, but I'm around teenagers a lot. I obviously am around them all day at work, but for several years I saw them a ton through a youth group I volunteered with. I spend more time with teenagers than any other people during the day, week, and year. To be completely honest, I like teenagers more than most adults. ;) I want to advocate for them with any chance I get. I hope these 20 things I know about teenagers can help you view them in a more positive light.

1. They can sniff out a nongenuine person miles away.

I swear they have some sort of superpower that enables them to identify fake people a mile away. They know who is being real with them and who is not. They want honest, genuine people in their life, especially in their school teachers. There's been an increase in the number of times I hear students call each other "fake" over the last several years. They don't like it when people are fake, I mean who does, but their radar for identifying fake is unreal.

2. They are kids in adult bodies.

Don't let their size, vocabulary, knowledge, or conversations fool you; they are still kids. They might say they're "grown," but they're not. A lot of my students have had to raise their siblings, or even their own children, from a young age. Life has thrown them challenges that have made them gain responsibility faster than others. However, that doesn't mean they aren't still a kid. They like coloring, art, crafts, games, and any other "kid" thing just as much as younger children. They might put on a facade about being "too cool" to do those things, but I promise they don't hate it. Most students who have had to grow up fast don't want to be adults. They wish someone would accept them as they are and let them be kids again.

3. They want boundaries, structure, and discipline.

My Mom always says, "Children want fences and boundaries. They want to see how far they can run/push you." I love this analogy. If you let teenagers do as they please, their actions will be affected. Discipline is healthy and necessary. All teenagers want you to discipline them, even if it means they 1. don't get what they want 2. get angry at you in the process.

It's never a good feeling to be cussed out. Knock on wood, that hasn't happened to me at all this school year. I had to learn very quickly that sometimes their reaction of anger toward me is because they aren't used to the structure I give them at school. They are used to throwing a "teenage tantrum" to get what they want from me. News flash, it ain't happening, boo. You can call me a mother-effing biotch as many times as you want. ;) Boundaries people, they need them.

4. They shouldn't be your friend.

Working with teenagers can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially beings I started working with older students at a very young age. When I was in college, I had field experiences with juniors and I was only twenty while they were seventeen. In my first long-term subbing position, I was 22 and the students I worked with were 18. That's not a huge age difference. However, they cannot be your friends--especially when there's not a huge age gap.

I have loved getting older because some of them call me Mom now instead of their "bestie." I will happily wear the title of mom vs. friend. Never confuse the two. You are not their friend.

5. They don't always know how to interact socially.

The awkward encounters I witness on a daily basis are alarming...but God bless their little souls. Teenagers absolutely need to have social interactions modeled. Let me say that again, THEY NEED THINGS MODELED--even relationships. I have literally had conversations that went like this.

Me: What was your body language when you said that. Student: I don't know? Me: Did you make eye contact?

Student: No, not always. Me: Was the conversation going both ways? Student: Not the whole time.

I love imitating them and think it is so important to actually show them what "normal" social interactions look like. Again, if they don't have this outside of school, where would they be learning it from?

6. They like their phones, but they crave real relationships more.

Yes, teenagers like their cell phones. But who doesn't?? I have one student who doesn't have a cell phone. To be honest, he's not any better socially than the rest of them. Haha. Teenagers want real relationships. They're scrolling because they're looking for that "thing" people seem to have on social media, which is perfect everything. We all do this. We all scroll, judging others and wishing we had xyz in our own lives. But deep down, we all just crave actual relationships with humans vs. our phones.

Also, back to the boundaries...give them phone boundaries! You're the adult for crying out loud. Before I go on a total rant this early on, I just want to say one thing. To all parents of little babes, think about all the things you have access to on your phone. Is someone with a young, developing brain ready to see ALL the world has to offer (for better or worse)?

7. They want to be given the chance to tell their story.

Ask them questions and don't give up when they give you yes or no answers the first time. The first time you interact with a teenager is a test. They want to see if you'll 1. remember their name 2. talk to them again 3. remember details they shared. If you do those three things, you're golden. If you fail once, you might have a chance. If you fail all three, it's going to be back to square one when you see them next.

Even the quietest kids like to share about themselves--who doesn't?

8. They usually enjoy talking/writing about themselves.

As I said, most teenagers like to talk about themselves, but if they don't talk much give them a chance to write. They'll surprise the pants off of you with their writing.

9. They are watching and listening more than you think.

Your words, actions, and lifestyle are looked at in everything you do. This part of teenagers can be scary. I think shaping small children is also terrifying, but teenagers are so close to being "adults" that the way they perceive you can affect them so much. Never underestimate the ways they are observing you and other adults.

10. They like it when you embarrass yourself in front of them on purpose.

Dance like a fool, say their lingo/texting talk, sing their songs and be goofy on purpose. I love embarrassing myself in front of them. I live for it. I thrive when I see their eye rolls combined with laughter. They act like they're judging but they actually love it.


11. They aren't always capable of making the best choice or the choice we would make for them.

This is a hard lesson I am reminded of every week honestly. My choices are not theirs. They are sometimes not physically capable of reasoning how I would. That whole frontal lobe development is 100% real. Their decision making is still kicking in. I cannot expect them to do what I would do. They also simply don't have the life experience that I do. Sometimes you need to fall on your butt to realize, "Oh, that was stupid." Let teenagers fail sometimes, but love them when they need help getting back up.

12. They are super loyal to people they respect and trust.

I know teenagers can have a reputation for changing their friends quickly, usually because of something small/dramatic. However, they are very loyal to those they respect and trust. I have a core group of students who are extremely loyal to me. They are more loyal than some adults are. But their trust and respect must be earned beforehand. I have a new student survey I give each kid who comes to my classroom. We get new students throughout the school year--way more than a typical school. One of the number one answers to the question, "What do you want/expect from me, as your teacher?" is usually the word "respect."

It's easy to want students to respect us, but it has to go both ways.

13. They deserve respect just as much as any adult does.

As I stated above, we as teachers often require respect from students. We might even have it listed in our room somewhere. Respect must go both ways in a classroom. Even if I don't agree with the choices students might make outside of the classroom, I can still offer them respect as a human.

Just because I am the "older" "authority figure" in the room, doesn't mean give me the right to demand something I'm not giving out. Mutual respect will conquer many barriers in any classroom.

14. Their music might sound "trashy" but they often don't know any different.

Why is it that adults are so quick to judge the music teenagers listen to when they aren't offering them an alternative? I listened to all kinds of terrible music in high school, and sometimes I still do to be completely honest. Haha. However, it isn't fair to expect them to listen to other music without someone showing them what else is out there.

Artists that are "trendy" right now among my students sound like a whole lot of bass and cuss words. But I cannot expect them to listen to other genres, or artists, without showing them what is out there. Make some playlists of what you love. For example, I love the Christian rapper Lecrae. He has several recent albums that offer the same musical vibe of the type of music they like, without the vulgar language.

15. Their world is unlike any other world to ever exist.

They live in a time of "hustle." They see their parents, aunts, uncles, etc. "hustling" and running faster than ever on the hamster wheel. What is that doing to their brains? What are they believing to be true about the pace of life? Is success based on how much money you have? Is success based on the people you surround yourself with? Is success based off of the followers you have or the "influence" you make? What is the next generation seeing through the habits we've created that they are in turn forced to reconcile with?

What does our world say about love, kindness, generosity, self-control?? Yikes.

16. They have dms, notifications, snaps, texts, calls, etc. trying to distract them 24/7.

I could use this number to go on a complete rant about technology, but I will try to be as concise as possible. The number of things they are "consuming" from their cellphone at any given moment is alarming. Cellphones have made our world, unlike any other time we have ever faced. No other generation has had access to the world, essentially at their fingertips all while their brains are still young and developing. If that's not enough to scare you, I don't know what is.

I didn't have a cell phone until I was 16 and it was a pay-as-you-go phone, from Walmart, and you put $20 on it for minutes. The iPhone didn't even exist until I was in college, and I didn't have one until I was twenty years old. Meanwhile, I have had students who have cellphones at age eight. That is never going to be ok with me. Parents, I beg you to consider the long-term consequences of placing a cellphone, or even an iPad for that matter, into your child's hands.

We need to think about what this world is doing to future generations. Rant over.

17. They're only scary/intimidating if you let them.

Teenagers used to scare me because of their vocabulary. Haha. There's something about the fact that they can cuss you out at any given moment that seems to intimate people. At the end of the day, it's not about who can "outsmart" who. I have tried really hard to not feel like I have to "get the last word" in with teenagers. I don't need to justify my decisions to them because I am the adult in the room, no matter if they are 20 years old in my classroom. I think you can allow teenagers to be scary if you don't feel like you're in control of the situation. You are always in control, even when it seems like all heck has broken loose. Which believe me, that has happened to me several times. ;)

18. They are 1,000 times easier to work with then most people give them credit for.

I'm laughing to myself, as I write this because the last while our students have been little bananas (to put it nicely). However, typically I would say teenagers are so easy to work with. I always knew I wanted to teach older students because I could have more mature conversations with them. I enjoy being able to reason with them. I also enjoy being able to give them the responsibility that you cannot offer to younger aged students. Let teenagers surprise you.

19. They are the best age to work with, and anyone who disagrees hasn't been around them long enough.

I'm just going to leave this one as it is. It's the truth, no doubt about it.

20. They all just want to be loved.

Who doesn't? The key to winning them over is showing them a whole lot of love and grace.

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