Teens spend a great deal of time and energy trying to look tough. My father and his buddies wore blue jeans, white tee-shirts, and they slicked their hair back to adopt a menacing appearance. As blue jeans became commonplace for both boys and girls, my generation acted out with gigantic hair and black eye-liner. Boys pierced their ears. We were cool until the next generation came along with the “goth” look of china-white skin, black lips, nails, and hair, and all manners of chains and spikes protruding from clothing and shoes. Now, those kids were tough! To frighten old folks today, the youngsters wear their pants sagging with boxers in plain sight and their expensive NFL team shirts give rise to questions about where folks that age got that kind of money. In any event, it’s their attempt to look tough, to look cool, to seem ferocious.
Why is it that each new generation on the scene feels this compulsion to look scary? It’s because they are so scared themselves. Growing up is terrifying. Becoming an adult is one of the most difficult things we ever have to do, and we generally have to do it long before we want to, long before we’re ready to, so we’re scared, and in an effort to hide our fears, we instead, hide behind a frightening visage designed to keep others at bay.
So, if wearing scary clothing can be a sign of fear, what behaviors illustrate bravery? Oddly enough, living life without the aid of chemicals is one of the bravest things a kid today can do, and yet, those that choose that path are often taunted as sissies. It’s actually quite the opposite.
To deal with the broken heart that comes when your best friend steals your girl, it takes far more stones to live through that experience sober than it does high. When all the practice you and your dad did over the summer didn’t help and you still didn’t make the football team, going to the games to cheer on the players rather than retreating to drunken parties takes as much bravery as it does to walk onto the football field. When algebra confuses you, it takes courage to ask the teacher or a fellow student for help. The coward just gets high and flunks the class.
This month, celebrate all the brave kids and teenagers that you know that are facing their uncertain future bravely, soberly, without the aid of harmful, addictive chemicals. Let them know that you see them as the courageous heroes they are, and not as the fearful “goodie-two-shoes” that drunken bullies portray them to be. Empathize with them about how scary adult life can be, and show them through your role modeling how to meet it head-on, without poisoning your body or your future with drugs, alcohol, or destructive behavior addictions like gambling or overspending.
It’s really important to let teens know we honor their abstaining from destructive life choices or they may begin to try out other options. If they’re on the path of bravery, make sure they know you see them there!