During a seminar for parents, we were asked to sit in a circle so that we could share some ideas regarding the conflicts we face with our teenagers. I listened carefully as my peers expressed their inability to communicate with, motivate, and reach their children. When it was my turn to speak, I knew there wasn’t enough time to start a controversial discussion, so I limited myself and only said that things do not have to be this way.
Perhaps we look at the world, the news, the realities of our society, and think that this state of “being”, this reality, is impossible to change. This reminds me of a proverb that states that it is easier to change your shoes than to place a carpet on the entire world. At some point, I decided to start by changing myself.
Something that has taken a radical turn over the years, in my position as an educator and former architect, has been my way of seeing and understanding adolescence. Every day I interact with 100 teenagers whose age ranges from twelve to eighteen years old. In this small sample of the universe, there is peace and an strong sense of belonging. Since the beginning of the school year, as a high school principal, I have not raised my voice once. I have had long conversations, I have received countless hugs, and I have learned something new every day.
There are three words that summarize a philosophy that is more like a recipe of how a teenager can be himself/herself, do his/her best and be happy while going through what some psychologists have defined as a temporary “pathology” that tends to disrupt the dynamics of any family. Those three words are: believe, be, and belong. This is what my students and my experience as an educator have taught me.
Adolescence involves an identity crisis. The individual who is no longer a child but not yet an adult, desperately seeks to define who this new being is. This identity is not a mystery to the child who has received faith-based education during the countless hours spent both at school and at home. Experiential faith allows children to grow up with a clear idea of their intrinsic value and their extraordinary dignity as a creature that has been created in the image and likeness of its Creator.
Every human being needs to accept himself/herself and understand that he/she is accepted by others. Sharing your beliefs with the adults in your life, from an early age, creates a common language and helps you establish a healthy relationship with yourself and others. Teenagers need to challenge themselves and be part of a demanding environment where things are not imposed, where they are inspired to achieve excellence in every aspect of their life. They need to be heard and validated, and demand to be respected in order to respect. They want to have the freedom of making decisions and are capable of understanding that no matter how much you love them, you cannot dissociate them from the consequences of any action that is detrimental to themselves or their peers.
Teenagers are social beings who seek to be part of an emotionally healthy environment, of a community where they are accepted for who they are. This provides them with the security of knowing themselves and overcoming their limitations, while developing the discernment necessary to distinguish how to act based on who they are. The idea of achieving high ideals and discovering the joy of serving, of walking away from materialism and the dependencies that deprive them of joy, resonates within them as the most authentic truth.
There is not much difference between the desires of a teenager and those of his/her parents. They are all looking for true happiness. In between the conflicts that are created when one side or the other tries to impose themselves, there is a beautiful space where God makes communication possible. If we forget about any of these constants, the equation will not add up.
Overall, adolescence is an adventure and not a civil war, it is a creative space that does not need screaming or crisis to develop. It is a lesson that I have learned by spending time with teenagers whom I love with all my heart, and that inspire me every day to see myself as someone who is authentically happy.