Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”
It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.
Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy. For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).
Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Yes, I let things slide, which is at times the right call and at times the wrong call. It’s true enough that we can’t fight every little battle, since sometimes there are just too many to fight, and we just can’t handle any more than the ones already raging inside us. I believe that God gives us grace for these moments. And I also believe that the Almighty desperately wants us to do our best to teach the next generation to live well (Read Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
This morning was one of those moments when I had to choose to suck it up and be the adult, rather than just “let it slide.” I was dog-tired, dragging myself in the side door of school. As I entered the building, I noticed a group of about a dozen eighth-grade boys hanging out in the stairwell with the doors closed. Not in the mood to investigate, I nodded at the boys through the window to let them know that I saw them and moved on toward my classroom. Two seconds later, I heard in a mocking tone, “Hi, Andy!” (my first name) from one of the 14 year old boys and then some laughing. I recognized the voice, since I taught him last year. I stopped in my tracks, then walked back, questioning myself about just how much of a hammer to drop on him.
As soon as I came back into their full view, I turned to one of the boys nearest me with a shocked look on my face and said, “Did he really just say that?” At this point every eye is on me, and I stare and point right at the offender and curl my finger back at myself and say, “Come here.” Nobody was laughing anymore, and he walked toward me with less confidence.
He stepped forward, out away from his buddies, and I got real close and said calmly, “Is that how you should address a teacher?”
“No,” he said quietly.
“No, it’s not. Now, are you sorry about that?”
“Yes,” he said with a look of genuine remorse.
“Okay then, let’s not have this talk again,” and I smiled, patted him on the shoulder, then walked away, without looking back.
I passed him in the hallway later in the day, and we smiled at each other and said our hi’s, and was reminded once again of the power of “No.”
By being the bad guy and firmly correcting him this morning, I had actually restored a right relationship. It’s satisfying when it works out this well. It doesn’t always, of course, but that should not stop us from doing our best. Because kids who do not hear “No” enough will suffer long-term emotional and social problems. It’s a powerful word.