What is it about teaching that shoves life into perspective?
Occasionally, it is the welcome perspective that somewhere between being 16-year-old me and becoming 23-year-old me, I acquired boundaries.
Not crazy boundaries that prevent me from making conversations, or making friends… or occasionally saying things I shouldn’t. But the kind of boundaries that allow me to think, “No. This person I met an hour and a half ago really doesn’t need to know every detail about me, my life, my relationships or lack thereof, and my current emotional status on all things.” It’s AWESOME!
(I realize that by typing that sentence, I am officially sharing my life, experiences, etc not only to one random person, but to anyone who happens to read this blog. Please rest assured that – unlike the rants on my High School LiveJournal, which may or may not exist somewhere in the ether – this post is a calculated thing. I have considered and decided to allow this post past my boundaries.)
That sort of decision has become a really small thing for this 23-year-old. No big deal. But have you ever stopped to watch 16-year-olds interact? Better yet, have you ever watched them interact at camp? I have. (Not in a creepy way. I am payed to teach them and serve as their counselor and hopefully waylay them before they do something that they would seriously regret.) It is terrifying. Well, maybe that isn’t the right word. I kind of wanted to describe it as akin to a car wreck that you see coming but you just can’t look away. Sometimes it is: I find myself semi-frequently mentally shouting “NO! DO NOT HAND THAT BOY THAT LONG HEARTFELT, POSSIBLY TEAR-STAINED, HANDWRITTEN NOTE! HE DOES NOT NEED TO SEE IT! AND YOU WILL NEVER FORGET THAT HE HAS SEEN IT!” and yet, being nominally an adult, I am in the zone where it is just too awkward to say anything about it.
But it isn’t all car wrecks and tear-stained letters. The total lack of boundaries and filters, at least from where I am standing, is also a little miraculous. Most 16-year-olds have no boundaries because they haven’t learned any better – yes. However, because of this they make friends and form bonds at the drop of a hat. Real, if slightly intense, friendships.
And it isn’t just limited to high schoolers. Watch freshmen in college in their first semesters. It is just the most exciting and intense thing. They will (and I did) stay up all night, not for the proverbial academic all-nighters, but because they are having soul baring conversations with total strangers. They will date many, probably-incompatible people in quick succession. They will (and I did) express opinions with a fluency and confidence that would make a narcissist blush. But they will (and I did) form friendships that truly shape them because they are so open to being shaped.
I am not sure what this post is actually about. I think it was initially just observations. But now that I get to the end, I find myself wanting to have a moral or a thought or something…
LET’S TRY THESE:
1. If you are not a teenager — be grateful. You probably have boundaries that prevent at least a small fraction of the dumb stuff you have done or will do in the future.
2. If you are a teenager — be grateful. You can get away with so much and share so much and make friends so quickly and non-superficially that adults will half-envy, half-disbelieve, and half- pity you. (Yes, I know I said three halves. Sue Me.)
3. If you have teenagers in your care — be gentle. They have no boundaries. That is dangerous, terrifying, hilarious, precious, and miraculous all at once. When I say be gentle, I am not saying tip-toe around them so they aren’t ever hurt. They will be hurt. Not only are they kind of like open nerve-endings, walking around saying “Poke me,” it is also necessary. They have to be hurt. (Hopefully in innocuous ways.) That is how they will someday become the person who is biting their tongue off with the urge to warn against ALL NOTE PASSING. IT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. THAT IS DURABLE EVIDENCE OF STUPIDITY THAT YOU CAN NEVER REALLY TAKE BACK!!!… I am off topic. They will be hurt. But when you are about to complain about the fact that they are unreasonable, over emotional, or just really really dumb – try to remember why. They are dumb, emotional, unreasonable, little miracles who have yet to be damaged into the shame, cautiousness, and boundaries that will someday make them socially acceptable adults. So forgive them a little. Laugh at them as quietly as possible. Protect them from the really dangerous hurts by creating and enforcing the boundaries they are not aware that they really need.
Now, I just need to go worry about what all the 30-year-olds are biting their tongue to avoid telling me because it would just be too awkward. Because I am also a miraculously dumb person, just a slightly older and more cautious one than I was 7 years ago…