It astonishes me how often adults engage in harsh and uncompromising criticism of young people. The long list of young celebrities who have been under fire recently for poor behaviour is a good example. Whether it is Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus it seems a lot of adults are very quick to throw mud at them for being juvenile. Of course it’s reasonable to argue that they don’t always behave in ways that are appropriate, but here’s the newsflash – they are juveniles.
‘Not fully-grown or developed’, ‘marked by immaturity; childish: juvenile behavior’ is how one online dictionary defines this stage of human development so many people struggle to empathise with. Surely most of us have done things in our youth that we regret. I know I certainly have; in fact there are events I would still hesitate to share with my parent for fear of disappointing them. So why is it that instead of being understanding, having compassion and offering wise council so many adults choose to hold unreasonable expectations and hurl abuse?
Sinead O’Conner made me laugh when she offered Miley Cyrus advice, only to then threaten to sue her when unsurprisingly Miley attacked back. Not only did Sinead choose to offer her unsolicited advice via a series of public letters, she then engaged in an aggressive argument with Miley who clearly didn’t want to hear it. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know attacking Miley will do nothing to encourage her to have more respect for herself or other people. Yes, Miley has said some very offensive things … but nothing overly surprising from a troubled kid trying to find herself in life.
Another event that both amazed and infuriated me were the ridiculous criticisms directed at Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s then 5-year-old daughter, Suri. The poor little girl dared to have a temper tantrum in public leading to people accusing her of being a spoiled diva with no appreciation for how lucky she is in life. What hope does any child have when such ridiculous expectations are placed on her? I’m still capable of having a temper tantrum and feeling deprived despite all the starving people in the world, and I’m 42!
It may be tempting to dismiss these examples as irrelevant because they are celebrity kids being criticised in the media. However in the cases of Justin, Miley and Suri I have heard supposedly fair minded and reasonable people make comments about the need for these kids to ‘grow up’. In each case I’ve wanted to say ‘no sh#t Sherlock’ but have managed to hold my tongue. Of course kids need to grow up – they are kids! It’s our job as adults to show them how.
Contemplate for a moment what it must feel like to have no privacy, to be pursued relentlessly by people you haven’t invited into your life. Yes, Justin and Miley chose the paths they have gone down, but what kid wouldn’t? How could they possibly have known and prepared for the all-consuming aspects of their celebrity lives? In Justin’s case Fox news reported ‘… he has turned into a real brat in recent months. Justin told the paparazzi how he really feels in London, launching himself at them and yelling profanities when they snapped him leaving a hotel.’ I’m struggling to see how that is a surprising reaction from a teenager who clearly wants some space.
Not for a moment am I suggesting adult intervention isn’t necessary. Young people deserve those who are older and wiser to share the lessons they’ve learned and bring discipline to their lives. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you are tempted to roll your eyes or right off a kid as being a loser:
- The brain doesn’t finish developing until our early twenties: our capacity to reason and make good judgment calls is still a work in progress
- Experience is the best teacher: its not surprising young people don’t always know how to respond in ways that are helpful. They haven’t been there before to know better.
- Perspective matters: a 70 year old who suddenly finds himself famous is entirely more likely to keep his feet on the ground and understand the privileges fame offers
- Not everyone has had the benefit of good parents: some kids rely on other adults in their community to show them the way and have faith in them
- Understanding is powerful: if a kid knows that you ‘get them’ they are more likely to open up, talk to you and ultimately listen to the advice you have to offer
- Empathy is key: try and recall what it was like to be young and have compassion for the emotional turmoil that so often underlies a kids behaviour