We live in a world where it’s never been easier to comment. On news, on appearances, and on human behavior.
I can remember being a teenager and watching my father occasionally write letters to the editor of our local newspaper. Back then, it was a protracted process — putting pen to paper, stamping and addressing an envelope, and walking to the mailbox down the street to then hope that your thoughts might be chosen worthy to appear in print perhaps a week later, where thousands of others might read it.
Today, we pull a smartphone out of our pocket and quickly type in our opinion of someone else’s actions, thoughts, or insignificant life decision. One click, and in a matter of seconds, millions of people around the globe potentially have access to our judgments.
And oh, how we are quick to judge. As parents of teens and young adults, we may find ourselves judging other people’s kids as a means to teach or guide our own. Or to tear down and gossip about other kids in a misguided attempt to make our own seem superior in some way.
We can be quick to judge other kids until it’s ours.
It’s easy to feel exasperated and roll your eyes at the kid who drops out of the club days before the big show or event. Until it’s your kid and you know that their anxiety has become overwhelming and is making them physically sick.
It’s easy to think the know-it-all, over-achiever kid is obnoxious and tries way too hard. Until it’s your kid and you know they are on the spectrum and struggle daily with fully grasping social cues.
It’s easy to label that kid that takes nothing seriously a “slacker” or a “goofball.” Until it’s your kid and you try so hard to hide the fact that they have learning challenges.
It’s easy to call out the girl posting inappropriate pictures online. Until it’s your kid and you are dealing with their depression related to body image and self-worth.
It’s easy to disregard and be annoyed by the student who always seems to be asking your kid to copy their homework. Until it’s your kid and you know they are working two jobs to help pay the family’s bills and save for college.
It’s just easier to accept the rumors about that kid who was arrested for drug possession. Until it’s your kid and you are horrified to learn they stole a relative’s medications to deal with the emotional pain they were too afraid to tell you about.
It seems funny when you laugh at the kids who were caught having sex on school premises. Until it’s your kid and you find out they were relentlessly bullied into proving themselves a “real couple.”
It’s easy to blame the mean girls because your daughter was excluded from a birthday celebration and is so sad. Until you discover it was your child who also treated others with disrespect or insensitivity.
It’s easy to get angry with the kid who flakes out and often bails on the carpool to school. Until it’s your kid who wants to help take care of their aging grandparent or special-needs sibling when you are completely overwhelmed.
It’s accepted to be critical about the kid who embraces nonbinary gender identity or seeks attention with unusual clothing choices. Until it’s your kid and you know how much they are struggling with sexual identity and daily hateful comments.
It’s easy to pass judgment on the kid who you heard partied way too much during their first semester of college and failed out. Until it’s your kid and you know the extreme amount of pressure they placed on themselves to be perfect.
Let’s try to have a little more compassion.
Every single high school and college student struggles with something. No matter what their parent says, what they tell their friends, or what their social media presence conveys. We all too often think we know the whole story when we only know a small part of someone’s entire truth.
We are quick to judge. We are quick to joke. We are quick to accept rumors. And to label and to make assumptions.
And we need to stop.
Because our kids are listening, even when we think they are not paying attention. And they need to know that every kid deserves compassion and understanding. And that it’s human to fear what we don’t understand, which is why our goal should always be to seek out understanding.
Because each new day presents us with a new opportunity to share in our humanity, extend grace, and practice compassion. Not just with our own family, with everyone.
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