Being adults youth need
Over the weekend I was working on a purpose statement for a grad school application.
I thought it would be the first part of my application that I worked on, but instead it was the last.
I referenced anecdotes from my experience of high school because they express points my adult brain can’t quite say as succinctly.
They show me applying concepts before I had words to say rather than show what they mean.
This past week I also accepted a job as a Youth Director.
The backdrop of describing my goals as an academic interrupted by my brain’s strategizing regarding where to start in this role.
There’s a straddling that has to happen between the creative and communicative tasks, the former including how we picture what we will do, and the latter being how we help others picture with us.
I thought about that positioning as I put into words my research questions, leaning into my younger self’s abilities to show what she means, even if that seems counterintuitive to other parts of me.
Advocacy has taught me that an essential quality of being effective is navigating this spherical type of thinking.
Being able to hold a three-dimensional object in your hands and turn it over into different angles.
Being willing to let go of the last angle so you can see from somewhere different without that distraction.
Being astute to know when you need to bring it all together, but keeping in mind when that comprehensive view isn’t what a situation calls for.
Sometimes it feels like guessing, but mostly, it’s listening and saying the things you don’t want to be heard saying.
A little bit it’s letting go of the urge to make something happen, or make information say something that it doesn’t.
A little bit it’s making sure that observation is a discipline we can still engage in, which involves looking more than it involves talking, and listening more than it involves responding.
The changes in my week encouraged by brain to be less analytical, and more demonstrative.
In other circumstances these would be the times where I’d want to role play, which, for advocates who’ve been trained by me know well, is my way of saying that I want to let the skill building happen. I’ve reached the part where I can’t explain without showing.
I’m bringing this instinct into my second week of work, with the memory of writing about myself fresh.
I’m bringing this instinct into work with youth, work with other adults, and work in spaces that is complexly creative and communicative.
And yet what is most on my heart to say and observe is how many power dynamics I’m conscious of.
There isn’t a way around the existing power dynamics that shape adults and young people’s experiences of each other, and I think part of the problem is that we take that fact personally, or we reject it as a fact.
Adults have the privilege of rejecting facts and calling young people’s observations subjective.
Adults have the pressure of other adults influencing their opinions and treatment of youth.
Adults have myriad impressions and experiences from being young people affecting how we see ourselves as like and unlike other adults.
Adults have the words that they may not have had in earlier times, giving worry thousands of new names and images and fears to contain against.
And yet the first thing we notice in other adults who are engaging kids and teenagers is exhibited patience.
A trait that communicates not relaxation, and not even a lack of high expectations, but a comfort saying what is true without the pressure to prove that it is.
That sentence should say what is true for me, but even that sentence is something you have to believe for yourself.
I’m purposefully not filling this blog full of tips or strongly worded critiques, because those exist.
What I contribute instead is an awareness that communication is the first hurdle to creativity.
The onus is on those of us in clear positions of power, in this instance honing in on adult privilege, to be honest about where we’re coming from, and open to learning the implications our decisions and perspectives carry.
The onus is not to make ourselves the voice of all perspectives, even if we think we know what we would have said in earlier moments, or if we’re seeing our fears and worries made real and nearer.
The onus is on us to let youth tell us what they need when they have the words.
The onus is on us to be patient with them and ourselves, and to insist that other adults be as well.
The onus is on me to observe myself, and to try and convene a space where I can observe more for longer.
The onus is on us to start with observation so we can fairly communicate what is true for us.
That, I believe, is what we can offer young people now.
Additional honesty, less judgment, and more of our unrushed presence to what they have to say when they’re ready.
We can use this time to get ready to hear them when they choose to speak to us.