In Their Own Words: 8 Lessons That Teens Taught me About Their Needs.
Last summer I took a part-time job with a local Charlotte nonprofit, Playing for Others (PFO). PFO is a mixture of many of the things that I love (the arts, service, leadership, dance parties, positivity, gratitude, amazing adults and awesome teenagers) wrapped up into a groundbreaking organization that changes the world.
I cannot, in one blog post capture all that they do. It would be impossible. However, I can share that the biggest part of my job was about teaching teens how to write, craft and perform slam poetry pieces, as an adult advisor for the slam poetry committee. It was less about teaching and more about guiding. These awesome teenagers performed these poems, which were dedicated to non-profit organizations in Charlotte, on stage in front of hundreds of people. Many of them had never written a poem or performed in front of people before. They were amazing. They did a lot of other really cool and life altering stuff throughout their year.
Last week, we had our end of the year closing ceremony. Each teen from my committee wrote me a message in a cute, creative scrapbook. Since I received it, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Usually, I would keep something so private and intimate to myself. However, I realized that in their messages, these teenagers gave me a window into their hearts and minds. They helped me to understand who they are and what they need from the adults in their lives. Through the messages that they sent me, I hope you can find some inspiration.
1. One teen wrote, “Hannah, I want you to know that you get shit done. “ This was a constant theme in the messages that they wrote me. They wanted me to know — they want you to know that they need people in their lives who follow through. While being there is important, it is merely not enough. They need adults in their lives who show them that setting goals, working hard and achieving goals matter. They need you to show them that you can get it done.
2. “Your constant advice, love and support made me feel like I was doing something right.” Teens, they are like everyone else. They need positive reinforcement in their lives. They need for us to tell them that they are valued and loved. They need to know that while they might make some mistakes, they are still doing a lot right. They need to hear that, and they need to hear it often.
3. “You have a voice. Let them hear it. This is what you told me before Connecting Charlotte and I’ve carried that with me all year.” To be honest, I don’t remember telling this particular teen this. There were so many of them and that night, prior to their performances, is such a blur. I don’t remember, but she does. They do. They hear what the adults around them are saying, and they don’t forget. So be impeccable with your words. They are listening. What will you say that they will remember?
4. “Through the diversity workshops, we had so much in common. It helped me see being a black woman in a way that I hadn’t seen before.” Representation matters. Our young people need to know that they have adults in their life who represent what they represent. They need adults who have shared experiences to help guide them along the way. They need to see the faces and hear the voices of role models who can say, “look I’m _________ too, and I made it.”
5. “You gave me room to truly be who I am.” Teens are seeking freedom and spaces to be who they are. They want an opportunity to have a voice and to not have that voice minimized by the adults in their lives. They want their individuality to be cultivated and their uniqueness to be celebrated. Don’t we all?
6. “You always kept it honest with us, and this is a huge reason that Connecting Charlotte was such a success.” They are at the age where they know when you’re lying and they know when you’re telling the truth. They want honesty like they want air. They felt that by keeping it real with them, I was respecting them enough to know that they could handle what they were about to hear — and they could. The truth isn’t always pretty, but neither is life. By being honest with teens, we empower them to be honest with themselves. That’s a gift that keeps on giving.
7. “Not only are you a beaming light of confidence and self-love, you are a master in bringing out the same in others.” This is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in life. It told me that everything that I’m striving to be, I become when I encourage it in other people. Teens need and crave love, self-love. If they can identify it in you, then maybe they can begin to identify it in themselves.
8. “Thank you for being one of the most supportive advisors that I have ever met. Don’t you dare think that we didn’t notice you came to every one of our performances; even long after the committee was over. It meant a lot to me to know that ever time, somewhere in the audience, you were out there.” Teens need for us to show up for them, when they expect it and when they don’t. They need you cheering from the audience, taking pictures and recording videos. They need you there, even when they don’t say it. They need you to show up.
This, to some of the super parents, educators and mentors that I know is common sense. However, we aren’t all super. We are human — navigating our way through life trying to figure it all out. I’ve heard so many stories of self-centered teenagers who just don’t get it. Sometimes they don’t get it… and then sometimes we don’t give it. It can be time, energy, love or acceptance. It can be confidence, assurance and support. It can be so many different things. Our teens, the next generation of thought leaders, compassionate individuals and world changers need us just as much as we need them. I am better because of the amazing teenagers that PFO gifted to my life. I am greater because they opened up their hearts and their minds to me. It is my hope that through their words you are reminded to continue to nurture and inspire these dynamic human beings.