Dear Teenagers (Especially My Students and Former Students Who I Love Dearly But Everyone Else is Also Invited to Read):
Can we talk? Those of you who are or were my students, remember how during class you sometimes try to distract me from the task at hand by asking me questions that lead to me talking and giving you life lessons? Here's a secret: I know what you are doing. You are not nearly as subtle as you think you are. But sometimes I go with it because I feel like it's worth it, or I can tell that you're tired and need a break. And also because I care about you and want you to learn things that will make you happy even if those things have nothing to do with quarter notes, head voices, or harmony.
Now I want to interrupt your time (summer) and give you a life lesson. I hope you will read this and think about it.
A few months ago I chaperoned a school dance. I do this twice a year and I did what I always did on these occasions: make fun of you. KIDDING!!!! I would never do that. Really what I did was stand there and feel bad for you. Then I talked with other teachers who also felt bad for you. One teacher, an experienced teacher who is one of the most loving, wise people/teachers I've ever known really felt bad for you and we talked about this at length. I've been thinking about it ever since.
Here's why we feel bad for you. You have more freedom than any other generation of teenagers probably since the world began. You have more leisure time and more stuff to fill that time. There are fewer restrictions or taboos that society places on you. For the most part you live far more comfortably and far more freely than ever before.
And yet, your lives seem to be less rich. You know a lot more about boys or girls (whichever is your opposite) than we did at your age, but I don't think you enjoy those relationships as much as we did. This other teacher and I concluded that in almost every appreciable category, we had less of everything and enjoyed it much more.
So, because I love you dearly--you have no idea how much I think and worry about you--I am going to give you some thoughts about dating, boys/girls, etc. I don't think you know these rules. From what I observe you don't have any idea. And it's not your fault. The culture isn't teaching you anything. These were things that we used to take for granted, things that helped us have fun and make good memories and form deep, satisfying relationships.
First of all: slow down. Way down. I see some of you who don't want to date yet but you go along because everyone else is doing it. Don't be afraid to opt out. I know things that are scary at your age. I see others who don't want to slow down but seriously need to.
Honestly, dating before you are mature enough to enjoy it is not going to be fun for anyone. It's just going to make things muddy. My parents made me wait until 16 to date and I hated them for it at the time. Now I'm so glad they did. Before 16, I was an masterpiece of immaturity and would have been a disaster. Doing everything earlier and earlier is not always a good thing. When my son had a Kindergarten crush a few years ago, the wise teacher told him he couldn't have a girlfriend until he had a driver's license. Loved it.
Second: Don't date one person. If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about the way adolescents live today, I would stop them from "going out" with each other. That means various things. On one extreme, there is just saying you are going out with so-and-so and buying them a Christmas present and that's it. On the other extreme, there are those early teenagers making out with the person they're going out with.
This is sad to me. If all goes well, you will spend the rest of your life in exclusive relationships. That's where you are headed. So, use this time to get to know lots of people. My parents had another rule I hated. I could only date the same person if I dated two other people in between. HATED that then. Guess what rule I'm imposing on my kids? This was great because it forced me to broaden my life. I got to know people that became and remain good friends instead of focusing all my time and attention on the current crush of my life. That was good for me. Former Students: I see you on Facebook and you go through relationships like I go tanks of gas. I have to admit when ever I see your statuses changed to "single" I cheer a bit. I know it hurts to break up but I am convinced that being single is how you are supposed to be in middle and high school. Single with lots and lots and lots of fun, flirtatious friendships. You do NOT need a boy or girlfriend to be happy. In fact, if you are not happy without one, then getting one will not m
Third: Dating does not equal romance. It can, and it's a lot of fun when it does. But you can go on a date with a friend and have a lot of fun. Looking back, the dates that I remember and enjoyed the most were the dates where my guy friends and I went out with girls we liked but were not in love with. That was fun because there was no pressure. FUN! Have fun. There is plenty of time for commitment later. Don't get bogged down in it too soon. A committed relationship between two mature adults is one of life's great glories. The same thing between two immature people is a bitter fruit that can taint your life for years. Also: mature does not mean when you think you are. Physiologically, you are not mature while in middle or high school. You're just not. Your body is still growing and developing. And that includes your brain and emotions.
I'm not against liking a guy/girl and going out with him/her. I just wish it didn't have to be so exclusive so early. Young love is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it. But I think you'll enjoy it more in the present and regret it less later if there are some restraints there and it doesn't dictate every other aspect of your life.
This is way too long now for your text-message-trained brains, so I'm going to end my post here and write the rest of it later. Do please give this some thought, Dear Ones. If any of you have read this far you may stop by my office for a piece of candy the first week of school.
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