What Young People are Teaching Me

This afternoon was Senior recognition night for my daughter’s high school tennis team. It’s been a hard, short season for my daughter which started with leg surgery and is ending with her playing great tennis. Let’s just say it’s been a full 6-weeks. With only two matches left of the season, the end of the tennis season is in sight, as are her days playing high school tennis. Today was the first of many “endings” that will be celebrated this year.

Yesterday was our first small group meeting at our church. Having “timed out” with my own daughters, I now have returned to leading in the middle school ministry. Sixth grade boys, nine of them. My husband and I are co-leading the group. (The last time we co-lead was when our college senior was in preschool. Wow!) Last night was an evening of beginnings, or at least marked the beginning of a new year. Even though the boys go to different school, the boys know each other from sports or other activities. And me, I know several of these boys because some years back I sat in this same room with their parents when they were in 6th grade. YIKES I’m old (or at least I felt old last night).

Beginnings and endings. The lives of our young people are filled with them. Some beginnings are major ones – new school, change of friends, moving – other ones are less dramatic – ending a sports season, changing classes each trimester, riding the wave of friends. The same can be said of endings. Having beginnings and endings as a regular part of one’s life is hard in many way, yet it also provides openings for new starts, reforming habits, and igniting new relationships.  

As I look at the lives of adults, their lives are much more stable. Sure, much of that is good, but some of it makes adults both boring and stagnate. How often are adults meeting new people and making new friends? When was the last chance you had for a “do over” or to develop a new pattern? Sure, the things adults worry about are “more serious” then young people, and maybe their decisions are of greater consequence, but really…could we learn a thing or two from young people?

Tonight, let me suggest five lessons we can learn from young people:

1. Moments of recognition are important. Tonight the coaches spoke into the lives of each Sr. Some of the things they said were obvious (like their athletic ability), but other things were more subtle (thinks like your sensitivity for others or your communication skills are really good). Everything said were important, not only for the individual, but also for the whole community. We could use more moment of honoring each other.

2. Dreams are important, and come in all shapes and sizes. Sixth graders and Sr have dreams. Be it being asked to prom, getting a goal in hockey, learning math, or attending a particular college, young people have dreams. Adults don’t always ask about them or take them seriously, but they have them. What does it mean to be people who cultivate dreams? What does it mean for adults to dare dream?

3. Life has ups and downs, count on it. Spend much time around anyone 13-18 and life’s a roller coaster. One day they can be flying high and the next they might hit bottom. These highs and lows are expected (not always appreciated, but expected). Some of the main work of adolescents is to learn skills to navigate these moments in life. But what if adults began expecting life to be filled with highs and lows, and actually got on the roller coast and enjoyed the ride? Sure, it’s hard some days, but maybe it might also bring us more joy as well.

4. Life is better together. That’s not surprising, but many of us adults are so focused on what we have “to do” each day/week we miss the people in our lives. How often do you get the chance to spend time with your peers, your colleagues as people? So many activities middle schoolers and high schoolers are involved in foster community – team-building, bonding, shared life together. Might adults learn something here?

5. The future is important, but the present is what counts. Sometimes parents (myself included) get frustrated with young people because they get so caught up in the moment they can’t think about the future. Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to keep the future on the horizon, but adults can be so focused on the future they miss the present. And living in the present is a valuable gift.

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