Rebel with a Cause: Teens and the Throw Away Youth Culture

20179609_10104382801587536_697586484_n.jpeg

I’ve been hearing murmurs on the internet about recent changes to Teen Vogue. The publication is apparently now offering articles which discuss politics and current events. This is big news because it’s a departure from the kind of fluff material often geared toward adolescents.

So I took a gander at Teen Vogue’s Facebook page. I found articles on make-up, a comical amount revolving around Jenner and Kardashian family drama, a few helpful hygiene tips, horoscopes and a sex act “how-to guide”, which failed to disclose its serious health risks, but did manage to highlight a grossly inaccurate diagram of the female anatomy.

Well, that was a waste of life, I thought as I closed the page. Perhaps there were some articles of depth buried amidst the trash, but the trash clearly outweighed anything of substance. If Teen Vogue is being championed as a bastion of American adolescence then my heart goes out to teens. Their potential and capabilities are being underestimated in tragic proportions.

But before going further, I want to clarify that this article is not a rant about “young people these days.”

It’s a criticism of how we as adults frequently underestimate the capabilities of teenagers. It’s a harsh condemnation of those grown-ups who profit by promoting a reckless and superficial youth culture (here’s looking at you, Teen Vogue). Finally, it’s a reminder that we can never start early enough in affirming young people of their self-worth and capabilities.

The Teenage Brain

Developmentally teenagers are still in the midst of brain maturation. Amazingly enough, the human brain does not finish maturing until approximately age 25. This should evoke compassion and understanding from parents and educators when we encounter choices and behaviors that seem reckless or ill-conceived. The desire for a teen to be an adult before he or she has reached full maturity is certainly a legitimate cause of teenage angst.

But the level of teenage angst and drifting that our culture now experiences is a recent phenomenon. Certainly teenagers have always felt at odds with the older generations. Young people have always tended to act without the inhibitions of older people.  It’s only been in recent decades, however, that being a teenager has been defined by a rampant material culture, entertainment geared exclusively toward their age group, and an educational system which confines them together in close quarters without the normalizing influences of the outside world. The extreme pressure for teens to participate in extracurricular activities also consumes more time they could otherwise spend with other age groups.

As an adult, when I think of being a teenager in those terms it sounds like a ring in Dante’s Inferno.

Aren’t the teenage years meant for so much more than this?

Rebel with a Cause

I do not have teenage children. I’m actually about as far away from my adolescent years as my children are close to them.

Regardless of age, each of us can still vividly remember those emotions and thoughts which defined our adolescence. What did we crave as teenagers? Often we craved meaning and opportunities for self-expression, but felt confined. Confined by our educational environment, confined by the petty pressures to have whatever was trendy and popular, confined by the limited responsibilities entrusted to us by a society that saw us more as children than adults.

Is any of this avoidable? We have to hope that some of it is.

When my children are teenagers, there’s a few things I hope that they hear from the adults in their lives.

I hope they know that we *see* them. We see that they are young adults, not older children. Their desire for independence, self-autonomy and self-expression are good desires and should be received with respect and encouragement.

I want them to know that adults cannot fully understand the pressures they face. We didn’t grow up with social media. The throw-away sex culture has only intensified since we were teens. If they tell us we don’t “get it”, we’ll need to be honest and say we don’t completely understand.

When they seem focused or bogged down by petty youth culture, I hope there is a continuous discussion that they are worth so much more than the nonsense. I hope that educators, counselors and others help me in ensuring they have time for genuine immersion into a world beyond teen culture.

I hope their community presents to them with pride and respect, examples of teens who are living authentically. Teens who are utilizing their emotions, idealism, and energy toward self-discovery and change.

Finally, I hope they’ll be encouraged to be rebels with a cause. They can be countercultural. They can rebel against those elements of youth culture which do not resonate with them, as well as the injustices they see going on in the world around them.

The sky’s the limit. With their lives ahead of them, there’s no reason why they must wait to begin truly living.

After all…

Joan of Arc was 17 when she took a commanding role in the French army.

Alexander Hamilton was 13 when he was entrusted to run a trading charter.

Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein when she was 19

Louis Braile invented the Braille System when he was 15.

Soccer phenomenon Pelé won a World Cup at 17.

Malala Yousafzai was 11 while fighting for girls’ rights to education

Teens, just like all of us, have hearts ready for deep love, minds searching for discovery, souls thirsting for God, and bodies made to reflect their inherent dignity.

How have your experiences as a teen influenced the way you parent your children? Do you think there’s an alternative to the way teens are frequently portrayed in our culture?

 

A Humble Father’s Day for Humble Men

A Humble Father’s Day

If I could give my husband the world this Father’s Day, I would.

As it stands, the only thing he has requested is a homemade enchilada dinner. He’ll say the meal is “delicious” with a big grin, but I’ll know it’s mediocre at best. Trust me!

The father of my children has embraced parenting with tremendous love, dedication and very little fanfare. He sacrifices and never asks for recognition. He willingly takes on the supportive role in our family and gives all he has so that we can find sanctuary in the center of his world. My husband is the one cheering loudest from the sidelines as my children and I run our lifelong races. He hands us water when we are parched and encourages us when we are weary. When we cross our finish lines, he celebrates with abandonment and does not mention how close we came to faltering without him by our side.

Although I obviously believe my husband to be the most extraordinary man in the world, his quiet and humble service to family is the hallmark of many incredible fathers who walk in our midst.

These are the fathers who ceaselessly give without waiting for praise. Come Father’s Day they will accept their tacky ties and oversized mugs and find nothing missing in the celebration.

father's day julia

Fatherhood’s Quiet Gift of Self

Fatherhood’s quiet gift of self often begins in the first weeks of his child’s existence, as he holds his pregnant wife’s hair back during the throes of morning sickness, and carries her to bed each night after she passes out on the sofa. It occurs in the midst of whispered encouragement to his mate when she doubts, and in his affirmation of her strength when she senses vulnerability. It’s found in his ability to give unwavering reassurance to the one in travail, even when all he wants to do is take away her pain.

But this kind of loving humility is also found when the wait for a child is long or the ending is met with loss.  It’s found when a man affirms to his partner that the wait has no bearing on their union or in his search to find a child not of his blood, but of his heart.

The journey may begin in different ways, but a humble father’s gift of self never ceases from the moment he holds his child in his arms.

It’s found as a father nestles his newborn upon his chest, savoring a meager paternity leave. He soaks up those precious few days with his squishy baby, knowing that the more he gives, the more his heart will ache upon his return to work. It’s there when he passes on career opportunities to gain time with his family or when he decides it’s best he stay at home with his children even though he’ll be met with stares and cutting remarks from others.

A father of this caliber forgoes vacations because he’s welcomed babies into his life. His humility means laboring long hours and coming home with his sleeves rolled up ready to work some more. His sacrifice is found when he has a gym membership card in his pocket, but rushes straight home from work because he cannot wait to see his family. It’s found in wanting the last bite of his dinner, but giving it to the ravenous wildebeests around his table. It means willingly stepping into a minefield of Legos late at night because his toddler needs one more glass of water.

He has forgotten what it’s like to sleep in on the weekends because his kids proclaim he makes the world’s best pancake breakfasts. He realizes that being passed on the highway by a sexy sport car comes with the territory while safely maneuverings a mini-van. He doesn’t even mind being teased for his wheels, realizing that his manhood isn’t in question while driving a carload of his progeny.  

A humble father can be found up extra-early each morning praying for his children and up late at night figuring out ways to make the world a more just place for them.

This quiet giver copes with unrelenting stress and pressures from a hundred different directions. He has precious little space in society to discuss them. Although he is sometimes misunderstood by friends and family who can forget how hard it is to be a good father, he trusts things will turn out well in the end.

This father has the courage to redefine what strength means and models it for his children. He holds them in his arms while owning his responsibility in shaping their sense of security and self-worth.

IMG_0223

He embraces fatherhood in a world that continually inundates men with reasons not to be fathers. A world that tells him to glorify sex, but not procreation, pursue wealth, but not generosity, seek power, but not service, accumulate self-fulfillment, but not opportunities for self-sacrifice.

He hears the million reasons why he shouldn’t give of himself in fatherhood, but realizes his capacity for love makes him worthy of the task.

And so this father does not look for praise, because he finds fulfillment in the children he loves. He gives and serves the whole year through and celebrates his life-giving fatherhood over a plate of enchiladas.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible fathers in our midst!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mommy Has a Squishy Tummy

A few weeks ago while I was reading with my kids, my five-year-old son scooted close to me and told me I had a very squishy tummy.

I stopped reading.

Okay, I frantically thought, I’m a modern woman. Obviously my tummy is squishy and I should be okay with this. There’s a life-lesson for my son I need to be teaching here. One that conveys healthy body image. Or something. I know I should say something.

But the life-lessons weren’t coming to me. All the articles and talks with friends. All those words of wisdom and desire to raise boys who didn’t objectify women. They went out the window. I felt I needed to say something to him, but all the possible words felt insincere.

What I did feel was my stomach tighten, as if a deep inhale could reduce the squish. And then I kept reading.

Following this squishy tummy episode, I realized it had been a while since I had taken stock of, and perhaps confronted, some realities about my own body image.

I’m at a point in life where pondering my physical appearance ranks about #457 on the list of things to think about. For instance, “can I wear this pair of jeans a fifth day in a row?” and “there’s no milk or bread in the house, can I still go one more day without a grocery run?” rank higher than pondering physical appearance on my list. Most days pass without more than a glance in the mirror.

But this moment with my son confirmed the presence of long-lasting  insecurities. I had tucked away these insecurities when I became a mother. Filed them away somewhere to be sorted out at a later date. It wasn’t that I had been liberated from these negative thoughts, I just put them on hold. And when I unintentionally stumble upon #457, the outcome is rarely positive. It’s one that still evokes feelings of inadequacy, criticism and self-depreciation.   

Perhaps you can relate.

So how am I to teach my children about healthy body image when I still struggle?

The answer was sitting right beside me. I wasn’t going to teach my children. My children were going to teach me.

My son had tried to teach me something that day while we were reading. And I missed it. The negative connotation I have with “squish” had resonated so strongly with me that the manner in which it was uttered by my boy was utterly lost.

So let me retell this story, completely this time. Let me put aside any insecurities and knee-jerk reactions. Let me share this as my son intended it.

squishy-tummy

A few weeks ago, I was reading with my kids. My three kids, five-years and younger. The children I have born and given so much of my body and soul to care for. As a page turned of a much-loved story, my oldest son nestled close to me, and with a contented sigh, as if almost unconsciously done, said I had a very squishy tummy.

That moment was not a criticism or tease. That moment for him meant comfort and security. It meant contentment and rest. It meant mother and home. As he felt his little body enveloped by the body that had loved him into existence, he felt happy. He liked the way he could so comfortably nestle into his mommy and he spoke that feeling into existence.

Children do not need lessons from adults on healthy body image. There was nothing he needed to learn from me.  Adults need to learn from their children.

Ask children about our bodies and what will we learn?

Children will tell us that bodies are for play, and love and exploration.

They will tell us skin is sticky and soft, occasionally boo-booed and in need of a kiss.

Fingers and toes are for feeling cool mud and warm sand.

Legs are to carry us to where we wish to go.

Arms are for reaching, even if what we desire seems beyond our grasp.

Faces are to be used in reckless expression.

And tummies are for food and belly laughs. They are often best squishy, especially when belonging to their mommies.

Having kids can teach us so much about our bodies. What have you learned about your body after having children?

Why My Kids Won’t Hear Me Knock The Baby Boomers

When it comes to the Baby Boomer vs. Millennial drama, it seems every week brings with it another act of intergenerational indignation.

It happens on Twitter and it happens in the conference room. Here is the familiar script: one generation is blamed for economic destruction and thwarted hopes, while the other is accused of unmitigated entitlement and laziness. Any commentaries that encourage generational cooperation often do so through the use of condescending “coping” techniques, as though one group or the other is just too much to bear.

We can go back and forth pointing fingers at which generation is responsible for this spectacle. We can even use what we hear from others to excuse our own participation. But is there anything that we’re actually gaining from a conflict that choses to ignore context or understanding?

As young parents, this scenario holds another layer of meaning. Sandwiched inbetween our parents’ and our children’s generations, we are modeling ways to treat people of different ages.  In our discussions, in the things we now write that will one day be read by our children, are we assuming roles we want them to mirror? Will our attitudes about this conflict help our kids make their productive and hopeful way in the world?

An obvious way of quelling the Boomer vs. Millennial conflict is recognizing that there is nothing particularly new about intergenerational disputes. Our newfound platforms on social media may lead us to believe that this is a uniquely hostile situation, but when all is said and done, social media’s tendency to highlight extremes makes the antagonism seem more prevalent than it actually is.

What we know deep down is that every generation has played out this same tired drama.

A generation is simply human DNA dressed up and thrust onto the stage of a particular era. Every generation has been brought into a world set in frantic motion by the previous one. While contending with the challenges they inherit, people raise a new cohort group who eventually grow up to discover that grave mistakes have been committed, and things ought to be done differently.

But is there a way for generations to reflect and confront mistakes without making sweeping generalizations? In wanting change, can we also see another generation with understanding for what they’ve experienced?

I’d argue that there is no better way to dispel the myths about millennial entitlement and laziness than to work hard toward fixing the unique challenges of our age without seeking special status for our predicaments. And even when we’re presented with unfair characterizations, the ability to rise above them shows maturity that is a force to be reckoned with.

Millennials are contending with great conflicts and challenges. Many of the institutions in which we were taught to place hope have turned out to be disappointments. Other institutions which should have been better preserved and nurtured in recent decades have deteriorated and negatively impacted our lives. We can and should articulate our current situation and work toward reform.

But Baby Boomers can claim a similar narrative. Although their generation came of age in different circumstances, those circumstances were not any easier. They grew up under the perceived constant threat of a nuclear holocaust. They endured the bitter conflict in Vietnam. They had to advocate for basic civil rights for huge portions of the population, all the while contending with economic recessions. These circumstances shaped both their positive and negative legacies and can leave us feeling a sense of compassion, which would make an important lesson for our children.

As millennial parents, perhaps the most meaningful result of this historical narrative is the awareness that our generation will also leave both positive and negative legacies. We don’t know exactly which legacies will be for better or worse, but it’s a humbling thing to keep in mind. Our political, economic and social trends, even our screen time, may one day be as strongly criticized by our children as we have at times criticized our parents.

With that being acknowledged, I don’t want to teach my children to model bitter frustration at older generations. I’d rather my children try to understand them. Through intentional actions, we can teach them to analyze, criticize and commend.  We can show them how to seek intelligible change and reform, even in the face of resistance. All this can be achieved without being embroiled in back-and-forth drama with another cohort group. I’m not going to make sweeping negative generalizations about my parent’s generation and I hope my kids avoid one day make sweeping generalizations about mine.

Ultimately, what I want for my children is the ability to confront inherited societal flaws as well as things within themselves that need changing.

When the finger pointing stops, our time here becomes a story of parents and children sharing a world they both inherited. Our thoughts, ideals and pursuits are so intermingled with the other that even the very barriers that separate one generation from another are blurred and eroded.  We are here because our parents brought us into this world, and our children are here because we chose to join this fabric of old and new human experience. It can be both beautiful and tragic to behold.

This essay was also featured by

lockup_fullcolor_new_fb_2