It’s been a rough week for you, men and women of Congress. Something has changed, dissent is in the air, and you’re being challenged — I mean SERIOUSLY challenged — by a bright, articulate, and passionate adversary I wager you never saw coming: Teenagers. Namely, the high school students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Believe me, I understand the confusion you must be feeling — I never thought I’d be arguing with someone in 2018 about whether or not the Earth is a sphere or flat, but here we are.
Since this is a new experience for you, I’d like to offer you the same unsolicited help that you’ve offered me and my former colleagues. See, I’m a former teacher with almost 20 years of experience, and I’ve learned a lot about teenagers in my time. While I can’t force you to follow my unsolicited advice the way you have forced educators to meet your demands over the years, maybe you’ll find some of my suggestions useful when navigating the murky waters of pesky 14-18 year olds.
These are all things I learned verbatim from the man I student taught with, the great Mr. Shawn Halquist, and observed to be true in my experience in the classroom.
1. You cannot lie.
Teenagers are, next to teachers, the quickest and most merciless bullshit detectors on Earth. Fibs, half-truths, bending the truth – doesn’t matter. They can smell it from a mile away. You might be able to pull the wool over their eyes for a tiny fraction of a minute, but they’ll figure you out — and fast. When they figure out you lied, you lose their trust and respect. And THAT’S a problem because….
2. Once you lose their trust and respect, you NEVER get it back.
NEVER. I mean, EVER. You can try to bribe them, you can swear you’ve changed, you might even ACTUALLY change, but when push comes to shove you’re always going to be the adult that lied to them.
3. You MUST be consistent.
The thing about teenagers is that they’re just learning enough about the world to see for themselves that it can sometimes be unjust and unfair, and that people can sometimes be inconsistent to the point of being hypocritical.
Sometimes that’s a bug rather than a feature — teenagers also don’t have the life experience to know that sometimes life isn’t fair and sometimes you have to make compromises because, well, life isn’t fair. But, because teenagers are the second quickest and most merciless BS detectors on Earth (see #1) if they sense you being inconsistent in your positions and determine it may be for less than virtuous reasons, you lose their trust and respect. See #2 for why that’s a problem.
4. You don’t impress them.
So far, you may have been able to dazzle (or at very least confound) constituents and the press with double speak, inconclusive answers, and other general waffling. But if anything is clear from the Feb. 21 CNN Town Hall, teenagers are tired of you “thinking about,” “considering,” “having a conversation about,” or “taking a look at” meaningful gun laws while they’re waiting to be target practice.
Ask Sen. Marco Rubio. He’s to be commended for at least showing up when the President, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and several other legislators couldn’t seem to make it. But it was abundantly clear that the students and their parents weren’t having it anymore. They want action, and they want it now. And here’s the final one that I’m adding that connects to this …
5. They’re not afraid of you.
Many of the comments I saw on Twitter last night during the CNN Town Hall chastised the students for not “respecting” Sen. Rubio or Ms. Dana Loesch, NRA spokesperson. By “respect,” I can only presume they meant in the way they did in sitcoms when they would listen and immediately acquiesce to the grownups.
I feel they listened until it became clear that they weren’t answering their question anymore, and then they respectfully but firmly redirected to get answers.
And, damn it, they deserve answers instead of spin. They watched their friends and teachers die and survived the horror and mayhem of yet another mass shooting event in the good ol’ United States of America, Greatest Country in the World (TM).
They aren’t afraid to look you in the eye and remind you the questions you owe them straight answers to.
I hope this helps, because it doesn’t appear that young adults are forgetting about this “in 7-10 days” like Sen. Marco Rubio suggested. Many of these young adults will be able to vote in November. And if you think they’re pissed about guns, wait until they start working on income inequality.