“So Yes, I Admit That I Judged These Teenagers When I Saw Them Walk In With Their Facial Piercings And Combat Boots.”

Story by Karen Johnson

We celebrated my son’s 11th birthday today by visiting an escape room. He and 4 friends all signed up (with me to supervise) to escape the Titanic and not sink. (spoiler: we sunk)

But when we arrived, we found out that they had also put a group of 4 teenagers in the room with us. And despite being a former high school teacher who loved my students dearly, now that I am a mom of a tween, I wasn’t super thrilled.

I know the difference between 11 and 15 and it’s actually like a millennium of new experiences, words, freedoms, and hormones. I didn’t know what I was getting with these teens, and now I was about to be stuck for an hour in a room with them, my son, and a few other 5th graders I was responsible for.

Without much choice, we went in anyway. We started off trying to solve puzzles in two distinct, separate groups — the teens vs the 5th graders and me.

But within a few minutes, something happened. They picked up on something we figured out. We overhead something they learned.

And we all started working together — and in the end, figured out the mystery code that would have saved us all. (If only we had 10 more seconds to enter it into the safe…)

Here’s the thing about teens. (A thing I knew all those years ago when I taught them, but now that I’m the mom of an impressionable tween, I somehow forgot.)

They want to be caught doing good, just like toddlers do. You know how on your worse days with your tiny tyrants, you are desperate for a reason to praise them? And how they light up when you say “What a big girl you are putting your shoes on!” or “I love the kindness I am seeing from you! I am so proud.”

Well, 15-year old girls in crop-tops and lanky boys who tower above us aren’t a whole lot different. And I remembered that today. Because these 4 kids were kind, helpful, and made great teammates to a crew of 5th graders and one lame old mom.

They were patient, spoke appropriately, and worked alongside kids much younger than them without skipping a beat as we tried our hardest to survive that sinking ship.

Even though we didn’t escape in time, I felt like we all won today. My kid had a blast, and I think his friends did too, and I wanted to make sure those teenagers knew it. So I stepped over to them as we all bundled back up into our coats and I said thank you.

“Today was my son’s 11th birthday party, and I want you all to know how great you were in there. Thank you for indulging a bunch of little kids. It meant a lot,” I said.

And you know what I saw? That same toddler face light up, only 13 years older. They beamed. They soaked up that moment of someone “catching them being good” and it felt awesome to be the one to catch them.

So yes, I admit that I judged these teenagers when I saw them walk in with their facial piercings and combat boots. I expected the worst as I looked over at my own child and his friends, who suddenly looked so young and innocent.

I was wrong.

Please don’t forget about the teenagers out there. If you catch them in the act doing something kind, say something. I’m pretty sure they need to hear it.

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