I love making teenagers squirm and try their best not to cry. It could perhaps be the best part of my job. No, I'm not bullying them or taking away their prized electronics. I make teenagers cry by telling them, to their face, eye to eye that they are intelligent, capable, and valuable in this society.
Unfortunately, somehow in society, hearing honest positive feedback and encouragement from an adult to a youth is a rarity. I think that is why the kids almost cry. I guarantee that 90% of their day they hear complaints and demands from adults - either directly or indirectly, they hear that they are worthless and their opinions amount to nothing much than a rebellious idea that must be corrected.
But wait! Haven't we been in a self-esteem movement where we are encouraged to say positive things to each other all the time?! I know I went through a "self-esteem" unit in high school where we learned about ourselves and our worth, so shouldn't that be enough to make us feel good about ourselves?
Teenagers can be duped in relationships with their peers, they can be pressured into doing stupid things that will ruin their life, they are notorious for stupidity. They are also notorious for being able to be brutally honest and smell fake niceness from a mile away - somehow especially from adults. Thus, telling a kid they are wonderful and special and valuable is only useful if it is in a real and personal context.
I am so thankful for the adults that pour their energies and lives into youth. I know in my life, if it was not for Sergei Kazinchenko, a radical youth leader from my church who decided to create a middle school group and invest his time in us, I could have very well been in a much different place. He took the time to get to know us, spend time with us, expose us to new ideas, and let us know just how valuable our thoughts and ideas were. He let us know clearly that we were not just some stupid teenagers, but rather human beings who are contributing to society.
Teens back in the 1990's and 2000's needed to know that. Teens today, even with all of the self-esteem movement need to know this. If you have a teen in your life, a sibling, cousin, neighbor, friend, student, who ever. If you have a kid in your life - tell them their worth. Tell them exactly HOW you think they are already contributing to society and encourage them to continue growing in their lives. If you do that honestly without deceit, that punk just might squirm.