Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.
Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.
If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:
“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time.
“Right now, you are building a network of friends, teachers, coaches, and parents who have a certain opinion of you. It’s your reputation that you are building, and it’s that reputation that is far more valuable to you for the rest of your life, than any grade or award.
“If you are remembered as a friendly, hardworking, honest person, then later when someone has a big opportunity, they might just call on you. It might be your dream job or a date with your future spouse. Opportunities will abound for those with a good reputation.
“Character matters most. Start now. You won’t regret it.”
This might like seem like a prison sentence for those who are struggling with life, as many are in the teen years, but it’s not all gloom and doom. The good news is that struggling kids CAN grow up to be good people. Teens CAN become honest, hardworking, and friendly. As a middle school teacher, I see it all over the school. Most kids make incredible improvements in character from 7th to 12th grade. And it’s essential to know that it’s not how you start middle school. It’s how you develop along the way through high school that matters so much.
Tell your kids: It’s not about who are you. It’s about who you become. It’s not about being outgoing versus being shy. It’s not about talent or intelligence or beauty. It’s about becoming a decent human and treating people well. Character pays off in the long run, in so so many ways.