One of the saddest realities of us, the well-meaning adults in the lives of young people, is that we suffer the unfortunate tendency of pigeonholing youth.
I was just thinking of a lot of the friends I grew up with as a youth in North Omaha; we were transformers in our days, crossing borders to make sense of the different lives we were living. Tracy and Joe and Marlin, Bethany and Mary and Erin, Jimmy and Scott… these were the people who were my people, my tribe, mi gente. I don’t know any of them anymore. That’s okay, because that’s how life is. But the images I have of them are images I formed in my youth, and that have stagnated, frozen in some kind of time/space warp where people don’t grow older or have other life experiences, where we are all stuck in a moment that we can’t get out of.
That’s how I see a lot of people treating their notion of “youth“: as a concrete understanding that never flexes, changes or transforms with the times. Despite working with young people everyday and seeing and hearing them, oftentimes we can miss the cues they exude as they show us, demonstrate to us that they are different than we were. This dynamicism is at the heart of young people, and its a tricky thing because it leaves youth appearing to be unknowable. This “unknowingness” presents youth on a dycotomy with adults: because we’re older, we know each other; since they’re younger, they don’t know us and since they’re younger, we don’t know them. As any committed adult ally knows, that is not true.
It is the obligation of adult allies to keep a fluid understanding of young people in our hearts and minds. In some senses this is very easy, as consumerist media compells society to feel beholden to the latest (and so-called) youth trend – and with differing musical tastes, technical abilities, and recreational interests there can be a lot to keep up on. However, this idea of seeing youth in motion can also be very difficult: if, like me, you keep a stagnant perspective of your own experience in your mind and heart, it can be challenging to see the experience of youth as transforming (as oppposed to transformative, which is obvious).
We can maintain our conscious awareness of youth in motion by deliberately connecting with young people on a personal level. Don’t do it for the sake of doing – do because you’re genuinely interested. In this way we can move past pigeonholing youth.