Every now and then I could be accused of underestimating our youth. I mean, the levels of compassion and empathy (or outright detachment) that our students seem to purport continues to befuddle educators. After all, I’m a teacher that recognizes that bullying–no matter what our community says– (online and off)–has its basis in a lack of empathy. We attempt to hold frank and open discussions with our students about cyberbullying and harassment on a regular basis. Many our youth (mostly boys) are fighting a gaming addiction (most to first-person shooter formats), and at an alarming rate, continue to withdraw from the local school community as a whole. The very nature of our digital citizenship seems to be challenged daily (i.e. sexting, inappropriate comments on platforms like AskFM, and social media bombardment), and the need to be ‘connected’ 24/7 is taking its toll on our youth.

Fast forward to the last day before the December holiday break. The school’s annual student talent is a highlight for both student-performers, student audience members, and of course, the staff. It was within these two hours of entertainment that (again) many of my misconceptions (and stereotypes?) of our students and youth, in general, were quickly dashed. Thankfully.

Even though many of the student-performers nailed their performance that afternoon a few other of the acts struggled but received the same, if not louder, appreciative response from their crowd of peers. A crew of what one might call ‘misfits’ rocked the gym with AC/DC’s TNT and had the entire school body (your truly included) chanting “oi, oi, oi!” One of our International students–after an eight minute Korean love song) drew a standing ovation from his peers (and lots of cat call from the female contingent of the student body throughout!).

Rocking out the stereotypes: our youth can be empathic persons

Another student, after publicly admitting to enduring years of bullying due to ongoing struggles with her weight prefaced her powerful performance of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful‘ by encouraging her peers to never be swayed by what others think, “[b]ecause you are unique and beautiful in your own way.” Her words of encouragement and strength were beautiful. The ovation she received afterwards went unsurpassed that afternoon.

I often feel extremely privileged to be able to work with youth every day for a living. No two days are the same and the experiences are both rewarding and frustrating. As educators we are offered an inside look into what makes (or breaks) our youth. Which is, in essence, our future society builders, creators, and leaders.

So when you hear tales of the hedonistic and self-absorbed teenager (yep, they are definitely not the same as the youth of the 1950s) be rest assured that our youth still hold compassion and empathy (as subtle as it is). There’s much hope for our future.

And maybe, just maybe the kids will be alright.

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