It's hard to know who you are as a teenager.
Adults don't see you as an equal and you don't quite fit into that adolescent stage anymore. You're not even a tween (a word that was invented long after I exited that stage of life thankfully). But more than the ever-present need to grasp onto something to understand my identity I wanted affirmation.
Sure, I was a pretty decent kid. I got good grades and pats on the back for sports. But beyond the surface-level affirmations I longed for someone to know me for who I was – or who I was becoming.
Two people not only recognized but encouraged a passion I had for writing.
My grandma would babysit me along with my siblings and give us writing prompts. Sometimes a sentence, sometimes a theme. She even sewed books together so that we had fresh, clean pages to write upon and a beautiful finished product to take home. Whether it be short stories or plays or poems I loved words in any fashion.
My youth pastor also recognized it and called me out to do something about it. He encouraged me to submit a poem for publication. I do not recall if it was a magazine or a book or what exactly, because all that mattered was that someone believed in me. Someone – who wasn’t a family member – saw something in me and helped nudge me along. He saw me for who I was at that time and who I was becoming.
It really is the little things that matter. The slight nudges of affirmation. The self-esteem boosters. The looks in the eye that state I get it.
When someone sees you for who you are, all of a sudden life isn’t so difficult to navigate. You have a person to turn to, a person who believes in you. Allow them to be that person to you, and then turn around and be that person to someone else.
Teens: I have been there in so many ways. Sometimes people got me, but most of the time people didn’t. It was those little moments with people – like my youth pastor – that got me through. So I’d encourage you to open up just a little bit. If it seems weird to go up to an adult, don’t worry, it’s weird for them to go up to you too. Let the weirdness be what it is and invest in one another.
Adults: I’m guessing you read the above note to teens and I’d encourage you to build up that stamina to approach the teens in your life. They need your affirmation, and more than that, they need you. Check out the art they worked on, go to a local band’s concert, ask how their science project is going. Even if you’re not an expert in that area, being present is all they need. If you see a student who seems to have leadership qualities budding forth and a genuine bent on spiritual formation, I’d encourage you to nominate them to attend Brethren Academy this year. Just knowing that someone cares enough to nominate them could make all the difference in the world for that teen. And maybe one day, when they’re in their thirties like me, they’ll look back and remember you as that one individual who believed in them enough to call them out and push them along in their development.