Teens Aren't A**holes, They're Just Learning

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When my teenagers first got their phones, they brought them everywhere. And I mean everywhere. This included stores and restaurants, and I quickly realized they needed a lesson in phone etiquette the day my son was talking to his friend on speaker while ordering a triple cheeseburger. Then, there was the time my daughter was listening to cat-dancing videos on full volume while we were at the grocery store.

To outsiders, I’m sure it looked like they were rude, punk-ass teenagers who didn’t give a flying fuck about disturbing those around them. In actuality, they just didn’t know. I hadn’t taught them that those eating next to them didn’t want to hear about what happened in math class via their speaker phone or how rude it was to be talking to one person while ordering food with another.

Speaking of manners, you may have seen a viral post floating around social-media-land about a group of teenagers who were so happy about their first dining out experience before a big homecoming dance that they left a lousy tip. Then after learning they were horrible tippers, they came back to the restaurant to make good of the situation by leaving a proper tip and a letter explaining their behavior.

“I would also like to say sorry on behalf of my group,” they wrote in a litter. “Since we were new to all of this, our 13-year-old minds didn’t exactly know how to deal with the bill. You were super helpful in dividing the check up and taking our not-so-preferable cash.”

The note went on to say they literally didn’t know what a proper tip was so, they left all their money on the table which amounted to $3.28.

These kids didn’t have to return and make things right. They didn’t have to leave a nice note to go along with it. But, they did. And it was an amazing reminder to everyone that they weren’t just some thoughtless and self-centered teens — even if that’s what they appeared to be at first.

We forget teenagers are still very much kids. They screw up. They are impulsive. And some things they just don’t know. Instead of crucifying them for all they do wrong, a little patience can go a long way. The reality is, their brains are still forming and will continue to do so until they are 25.

They haven’t learned all there is to learn. There are times when we see them being seemingly rude, like when my son hopped into the express lane at Target with his 35 items. He was so occupied about using the debit card correctly, he failed to read the sign. The cashier could have been super rude to him, but instead they gave him a gentle reminder. He was embarrassed as hell, his cheeks reddening, and you better believe he’ll never make that mistake again.

I’m still hoping the man behind him who shamed him feels a little guilty.

Honestly, how can we expect our teens to be patient and kind if we are so quick to criticize and jump to conclusions?

As a parent (or non-parent), it’s hard to remember how much our teens are evolving and discovering. Not just in public places where showing proper etiquette and manners is concerned either. Our teens are learning to navigate really difficult relationships and situations situations on top of learning all the right things to do in the real world. And as adults, we need to slow our roll and do more teaching and less jumping down their damn throat when they mess up.

I’ll be the first to admit, I need to work on this in my house with my three teenagers. Last summer, I rushed home to pick up my daughter so I could gather her and her friends to go to the local fair. When I came home, out of breath carrying in all the bags of groceries, she was sitting on the sofa and wouldn’t budge to give me a hand.

“Hurry up, honey, let’s go or we are going to be late picking up your friends for the fair,” I said. But instead of a response, I got a bedroom door slammed in my face with not one word.

After a few hours, I learned my daughter and her friends had a falling out and instead of working through it and pulling together a plan to meet anyway, they were hurt and they all sat home and sulked and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it. So she shut her herself in her room, much to my frustration.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t as patient as I could have been. I figured they’d know how to act by now. I had confidence I’d taught them well and they’d learn from my example. I assumed they’d know to hold the door open for people and remember their homework and not be shy about standing up and doing the right thing. But this isn’t how it goes. Like, at all.

I had assumed that by the time they were teens, my patience wouldn’t be stretched so thin but here we are.

We assume they know how much to tip, or they are laser focused on a task at hand, but they are so new to so many experiences and we need to be mindful. Not only are they discovering how the world works around them, but they are inundated with social pressure from their peers. They feel shame for not knowing how to handle a situation. It takes balls for them to correct it — just like it does for us.

They need space to work their way through something, and a little kindness in our voice does a lot more good than assuming they are being a dick on purpose. When we cut them some slack and understand that they just might not know the right way to deal with something, it can change everything.

There are times as a parent I see how my kids handle something and I’m frustrated simply because they are going about it in a way I would not. This is where my patience needs to come in. It’s not about accepting and ignoring bad behavior. It’s about taking a different route to fix something.

They get caught up in the moment. That can look like not tipping enough, or not caring about anyone else’s plans or feelings because they are really caught up in their own.

When adults fuck up (which we often do), a little empathy and compassion goes a long way. Our teens are no different and deserve the same. We just have to remember there are times they may not know how to ask for it.