Dear Teenagers, We Owe You an Apology

Dear Teenagers,

We owe you an apology. We grown-ups, I mean. We owe you an apology, and I’m not sure I can do it justice but it turns out my heart insists I try, so here it is.

Despite the fact that adults have wailed and gnashed their teeth for generations upon generations of raising teens — all WOE IS ME and THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US and ACK, TEENAGERS —  we who are adults right now, in this time in history, owe you an apology.

We owe you an apology for the articles that fill your online feeds with titles like Teenagers Feel More Entitled Than Ever, and Narcissistic Youth, and America’s Spoiled Adolescents. Because OH MY WORD, those things are everywhere.

Everywhere, right? They’re shared and shared, and they spread like wildfire.

We owe you an apology for buying into the rhetoric that sends you the message that you’re awful.

We owe you an apology for decrying your immaturity before we’ve allowed you time to mature.

We owe you an apology for maligning you in public and in private.

And we especially owe you an apology for the myriad slights and constant belittling and rather epic immature behavior on our own part as we point fingers and drive wedges and break down communication.

We owe you an apology because we’re wrong.

Even those of us who don’t share those articles, who hold teenagers as some of our favorite friends and best role models, who seek to encourage and uplift, owe you an apology for every time we fail to defend you.

Instead of lifting you up, which is our responsibility and should be our privilege, we have let you down with our silence, our pessimism, our fears, and our selective memories about what it was like to try to navigate the world as a newly minted adult.

Here’s the truth: you screw things up, friends. Sometimes ENORMOUSLY. Certainly daily.

And here’s another truth: so do we. Absolutely. HUGELY. And just as often.

Turns out, we are, all of us, a mess, and also magical and magnificent. Incredibly magnificent.

You can be utterly selfish and stunningly selfless. Me, too. We are kind and unkind. Steady and unstable. Courageous and afraid. We are, after all, adults and teens alike, made of the stuff of humans, at once precious and also fallible. Good and bad. Perfect and imperfect. And deeply worthy of love.

Oh, teenage friends, hear this: you are, you are, you are deeply worthy of love. And entitled to it, too. You are ENTITLED to be loved exactly as you are right now.

ENTITLED.

Now there’s a charged word.

How many times have you heard it? Because I’ve heard it A LOT. “Teens these days are so entitled.”

I want you to know you ARE entitled, and here’s how:

You are entitled to the respect due every human, because you are as human and as divine as the rest of us.
You are entitled to be heard when you voice your opinion, your desires, and your needs.
You are entitled to be cherished exactly as you are.
You are entitled to community and camaraderie and friendship.
You are entitled to make mistakes.
You are entitled to be imperfect.
You are entitled to be treasured despite and even because of your imperfections.
You are entitled to be right.
You are entitled to be wrong.
You are entitled to learn and to grow and to change, and you are entitled to rest when those things become too hard.

You are entitled, teenagers, and you are becoming. Both definitions of “becoming” — 1. absolutely lovely as you already are, and 2. in the process of transformation. You are SO becoming, friends. Both/And. Both already beautiful and also in process. 

So here’s what I want you to do the next time you see one of those shaming articles or hear the comments:

Know that you are not alone.

Know that there are those of us who just don’t buy the disgruntled rhetoric.

Know that you are wonderful and weird and wild, exactly like you’re supposed to be.

Know that you are part of us — the Grand Us; the people who choose to believe in each other. We’re out here. I swear it. We’re out here and we need you.

Look for the encouragers. Look for the ones who have your back.

We are here, we are legion, and we are working at speaking louder so you can hear us over the din.

With love,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
12 comments
  1. When my daughters were of middle school age and brought their middle school aged friends around, I discovered how delightful this age really is. Then they became teens and so did their friends, and when they brought these and new teen friends to visit, I truly enjoyed them. I’ve always known how awesome college aged people are since I have taught college for well over twenty years, but now that both of my daughters are in college, I see even more close up and personal how truly amazing these people are. I have loved having my home filled with their friends at any age. I only hope I’m around long enough to discover the beauty of people in their thirties, forties, fifties and beyond through my daughters and their peers.

  2. There’s a time for encouragement and a time for criticism. Teenagers are incredible: they are creative, funny, brilliant, curious, kind, and adventurous.

    They are also, by turns: immature, cruel, lazy, and ignorant.

    As parents it’s our job to respond appropriately to all of these conditions.

    And do you really think “our” articles are filling up “their” feeds? Dude, teenagers are using an Internet that we barely know exists. Even those of us who *think* we are savvy.

  3. YES. Yes! Thank you! I am a pediatric nurse practitioner and I specialize in Adolescent medicine. I firmly believe that we as a society set these kids up to get in trouble, or to fail, or we don’t provide them guidance and then we are shocked/offended when they make poor choices. We do not give them credit for how hardworking, brave, creative, kind, and resourceful they are in spite of adults consistently selling them short. It is an age group about which we feel entitled to speak poorly. But they are so special. And what’s more, they are the next generation of decision-makers, so if we want them to choose and guide our country wisely, it behooves us to invest our time and energy in supporting them. I want to shout this post from the rooftops. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Thank you. Thankyouthankthankyouthankthankyou. I am a teenager. I hate most of the things that girls my age normally like. I relate much, much, better to adults then I do to most people my age, with a few exceptions. I have thought for a while that the way our society treats teenagers is incredibly wrong. I am so glad that you agree with me. You are seriously awesome.

  5. Now that my oldest is 13, it honestly feels like the most magical period in his life. I mean sure, the baby years were cute, but after a while ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the things that most babies do? It gets old. But the teens? This is when all of those years of them developing their own personality really start to shine! My teenager is not exactly like your teenager or any other teenager out there, and it is glorious to see how varied they are!

  6. I came to this exact conclusion as a Sex Educator to teens in schools, shelters, juvenile detention, teen parenting programs, churches, etc. No matter where I encountered them, I discovered that they weren’t given enough credit, often dismissed and ignored. I gave them the respect they deserved and got it back ten-fold.

  7. In my house we have only small children so far, and my husband and I shake our heads in bafflement over the way people react to teenagers. We suspect that a mystical being enters the homes of families whose oldest child is about to turn 13 and magically removes all memories of being a teenager from the parents’ brains. We call this creature the Lobotomy Fairy.

    And I am ever relieved that some rare, few people have managed to outwit her and avoid her visits. I’m hoping that, when the time comes, our household’s anti-fairy defenses are up to the task.

  8. YES!!! SO YES!!!!! People are always telling me “Oh, your kids are great now, but just wait until they’re teenagers.” and I’m like, “I happen to really look forward to that. Because I know my Mom LOVED when we became teenagers and I know a lot of really awesome teenagers and DUDE, I cannot WAIT to see what kind of awesome teenagers my little ones turn into!!!!!!!!”

  9. When we go into stores together, I make sure to take her bag so no one in the store can think she is stealing and they won’t follow her around. If she goes by herself, they give her a look like ‘OMG SHE’S GOING TO TEAR THE STORE DOWN’. We’ve discussed this, and still it hurts. I don’t remember people treating me like this as a teen, and it makes me sad and angry and frustrated that our teens are dealing with this attitude on top of everything else that comes with simply being a teen.

  10. I think this could apply to almost every article/internet post about all children – so much about why parenting is hard, how to make your children more manageable (for your benefit), why children are difficult and messy and so on and so on and so on. What happened to children are a gift, and a reward, and a blessing?

  11. Thank you. I agree, every new generation is dismissed as “do not work as hard” and “living in a different world” or “out to destroy our culture”. Just because it is how you did it does not make it the wrong way, and maybe finding the best way means trying new ways. Thank god we have youth to show us a new perspectives on ourselves.

  12. Thanks: it needs to be said. Middle schoolers, the age I teach, often seem like the most reviled of all adolescents–judging by the reaction I get when I say I teach middle school. The secret: they’re great. I wouldn’t want to teach any other age. They are unappreciated, underserved, undervalued.

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