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It Takes a Village

December 10, 2007

by Kristine Fredrick

Some people are afraid of teenagers. Other people find them amazing cocoons of future adultsthat’s me. I work The Neighborhood with teens and consider it my privilege and obligation to interact with them. I can see what is scary though. Teens test out everything, bad language, mean pranks, social boundaries, and even crime. They also need supervision, and independence to test out their adult responsibility, life and work skills, and growing knowledge base.

In our neighborhood we have many young teens who are home alone in the summer and after school days, testing their responsibility, until the parents come home. This is normal, it is not poor parenting. What happens when parents are away at work? Teens gather at one house or another, play video games, go to the rec center, ride bikes, take walks. That might get pretty boring after a week or two. We don’t have a summer camp or volunteer program for our kids here in the Highland Park neighborhood, so my teen neighbors played badminton for a week or two, then some other street games, then they discovered the pinecones under a neighbor’s tree and decided they would be great artillery for war games in the street. Later I walked past as they were sitting in a different neighbor’s yard. I always greet them and say something a corny, old-fashioned adult would say. “How are you guys? You look bored.” Or, “Does Ms. So and So know you are in her gardens?”

Last year when I was walking home from my aunt’s house on Ashland Street, I was whistled at on Nicholson Street by some boys who were middle school age. I laughed at them and told them I was old enough to be their mom. They gave me a fresh reply about how that’s ok they were “grown”. I explained that there are nice ways to be friendly and say hello to they ladies in the neighborhood and gave some examples. They were very giggly boys and gave up on me with an, “Okay miss have a good day.” They never did get my digits, but they learned some boundaries.

Your boundaries may be different than mine, or than the parents of the teens you encounter around here, but learning that different people have different boundaries is a valuable lesson for young adults. So when kids litter on your lawn, it may be news to them that some people don’t like trash in the yard. Or if your young neighbors sit on your car they might not realize that there is any difference between sitting on your steps and sitting on your car. They are not omniscient, so be friendly: “Whatcha doing there Jake?” and be firm, “Don’t do than any more buddy,” “That ruins my paint job,” “Do I have to clean up after you,” or “Do you wanna help me here?” Feel free to add some corny examples, “When I was a kid my dad woulda kicked my but if I did that…”

Adults give off mixed messages about boundaries when they don’t maintain their property. So if you are annoyed by the trash, graffiti, or foot traffic in your yard, step back and have a look: is the paint peeling, siding damaged, landscaping overgrown with weeds, stairs broken? Are drugs being used or sold on my property? Giving a clear message that you care about yourself and your property can take the place of those conversations with teens you are uncomfortable having.

Young people appreciate honest praise and a sincere interest in their needs. They need a healthy community. Don’t ignore them; be a part of that healthy community by interacting in a healthy way when you need to.

from The Highland Park Buzz    – Volume 7, Issue 3 December 2007

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