Your Own Glass is Half-Full

Originally published March 15, 2008.

Last month I referenced an essay by a 16-year old from a series Time ran in September 2006.Here are four more essays chosen to give us some bright insight into the 16-year old mind:

By Stephen Serene:

"Now that I am 16, I am starting to feel responsible for helping to solve some of the world's big issues. Until now, I have blamed poverty and disease in Africa, global warming, discrimination, national debt accumulation and war on adults. Now that I am about to become an adult I am gaining the ability to help mitigate these problems.

"I recently received my driver's license and began driving instead of using public transportation. My contribution to global warming has increased significantly and I must now work to fix that. My impending entrance into civil society also brings responsibilities. Soon, I will have to work to decrease discrimination and national debt. Until now I have just been content to educate myself about these issues. In the near future, however, I will have to decide to what extent I wish to help those in sickness and poverty. Will I study development? If I do, will I live intermittently in developing countries and America, with the family sacrifices such a life would entail? If I work in an unrelated field, how much money will I give to charity?

"I am very excited to try and help the world. Yet I fear the day when the problems I have ignored or failed to solve lie on my conscience."


By Julia Park:

"It may be called sweet 16, but thus far, being 16 has been a bittersweet experience for me. Although at the age of 16, teenagers do not have to worry about bills or where they will get their next meal, there are other pressures that occupy our minds on a daily basis. Every minute of the day, at least one 16-year-old in America is being pressured into shoplifting or drinking alcohol, is worrying about his/her standardized test results, or has had a fight with a friend. Such problems may seem trivial to adults, but they have huge impacts on the lives of teenagers.

"The age of 16 has so far been an extremely uncertain time for me. The hardest part of being 16 has been the expectations that my family, friends and I have on myself to succeed. After months of sweat and toil, the horrible feeling of receiving a disappointing SAT or ACT score is indescribable. You want to make yourself and everyone else proud, but when you fail to do so, you feel discouraged and useless.

"I believe that 16 is the age when youths truly begin to think about their future. Will I be accepted into my dream college? What do I want to major in? For me, 16 was the age when I received a slap on the face from reality. I realized that I had wasted the last few years of my life idling in front of the TV when I should have been preparing for my future. As college draws nearer, I now realize that there is more to life than following the latest trends and wanting to be accepted by peers. Looking at the broader picture, it is obvious that high school is just a small hill that gets us ready for the real world."

By Patty Yau:

"Sixteen is supposed to be one of the best years of your life. It's the time when you have the most friends you're ever going to have, you can't possibly look any better, and you're at your absolute peak. What a joke.

"This year has been filled with nothing but stress from school, from home, from friends, and only occasionally some sleep. Every day is monotonous: wake up early for some last-minute studying, rush to school, study and do homework during break, run to your club meetings during lunch. After school, you still have to go to all your different volunteer activities before trudging home to tackle your homework. All this pressure points to one thing: college.

"Schools are so competitive these days, it's ridiculous. I can't remember the last time I had a decent eight hours of sleep. Any student who wants to enter a top university can relate that they no longer have time for hobbies. Admission was fairly easy in my parents' generation. Now you have to be the perfect 4.0 student, get a 2400 SAT, be president of three clubs, have a part-time job, and still demonstrate "a special talent you will bring to the campus." And that's just getting admitted.

"I was actually looking forward to my summer before my parents announced they were sending me to an SAT prep class. That was also before my AP teachers assigned us our summer projects, which included, but were not limited to, an essay due in the middle of July. This is a public school.

"I guess being 16 isn't completely bad. If there's anything we have now, it's opportunity. At least we have a chance to become more than what we were born into. It's just a terribly long and boring road."

By C.J. Martino:

"To be 16 for me is really all about the future, and where I'm going to be. I must do well on this test tomorrow because it will determine my report card grade, which determines my college acceptance, and determines my first job, which determines my life. I feel like every little decision I make now can affect me for the rest of my life. But 16-year-olds have no pressure on them right? Ha. I'm caught between so many worlds, and that's why I always feel like I'm falling behind, and being dragged along the whole time."

So sometimes those goofy, emotion-driven, scatterbrained teens can really formulate their lives into words.It’s amazing how those words also fuel our passion.Those words remind us why we love teens; why we have hope for teens; why we want to come along side them and walk with them through these important years.These words are from strangers yet I know I can see the lives of my teens in these words.

When you feel your glass is half empty or when you get discouraged at the short-sightedness and shallowness of your own teens, I challenge you to put together a writing task that will help your teens gain a contemplative look at their lives.Change your meeting set up this one time from you teaching to them to your teens having the chance to teach you something.For the lesson, do a creative writing assignment.Yes, it does seem a bit like school but if posed right, your teens will love the chance to be heard through their writing.

Here are some tips to set this up right.

  • Prior to the meeting, provide pens and lined paper for everyone.You may even want to splurge to get some nice stationery (lined is a must) or create something special (lined) and print on watermark-quality paper or the like.This will help make the lesson not school-like and reflects how respectfully you are taking this.
  • Set a reflective mood by using candles or other soft lighting.Also you may want to add some background music.
  • When you have your group in full anticipation, pose the question, “What is it like to be _____(age)?Or pose your own question.
  • Give your teens a good amount of time to write.Don’t worry, they will write.With the right set up, they will welcome the chance to really tell you.

In closing for the evening, write the word “courage” across your whiteboard or some other prominent place.Define the word personally for your group as to how you see them living their lives every day--before you’ve read their writings.A nice extra effect will be to make your personal definition into a bookmark or some other keepsake which you will give to everyone upon departure.

After the youth meeting, go home.Prepare a yummy warm drink.Sit in your comfy chair.And read what has been written.Don’t forget to pause throughout this reading time to thank God that your glass is half-full.You really do work with some wonderful teens even though they are also goofy, emotion-driven, scatter-brained, short-sighted and shallow at times.