Children and teens can teach adults much

By Chris Ott

For The Beachcomber

I found Jack Stewart’s article about grinding to be depressingly and predictably ironic. He wants teens and adults to communicate, yet this whole fiasco was created by adults who saw something they objected to and eradicated without including teens in the process.

The anger and frustrations that I have heard and read from the teens is not so much that the dancing was banned, but that they weren’t included in the decision-making process. Did Mr. Stewart read Vashon High School senior Eli Hoyt’s letter to the editor (Beachcomber, Nov. 10) where he stated that:

“Some of us at VHS thought that the meeting Sunday at the elementary school to discuss grinding was meant as a good opportunity for the students to get in touch with the adults, and we were under the impression that a compromise was to be reached. But during the opening remarks, Superintendent Michael Soltman announced that ‘grinding is over.’ Speaking for the students who attended, an absolute statement like that certainly didn’t set the stage to work out a deal.”

In a front page story of The Riptide (Vashon High School’s newspaper, Nov. 25), Steven DeWalt writes, “As (senior Shelby) Gale states it, ‘The reality was made very clear when Marcy Summers and Michael Soltman stated to the group that grinding is over.’ She said that students were not accurately represented in the discussion and that the adults steamrolled over most of their concerns.”

In an op-ed piece in that same issue, VHS student Hanna Ferguson writes, “If Island parents want a change to come to the dance floor of VHS they should ask the students what they want and see if the students and parents can reach a compromise.”

Shelby Gale’s letter to the editor of that same issue is a must-read for any parent truly concerned about setting up a dialogue and working out a compromise.

So far, it is the teens who are being reasonable and the parents who are overreaching. The teens are willing to talk, but the parents aren’t willing to listen. That is not communication. It’s tyranny. 

Ah, but many will say (to paraphrase Machiavelli) it’s “benevolent tyranny...we’re doing it for their own good.” But what good does it do when the students are not included in the process? When your idea of communication is, “Here’s what’s good for you — do it,” how do you expect them to listen?

Teens are a lot smarter and more sophisticated than most adults give them credit for. Read The Riptide if you doubt what I am saying. Yes, we have life experiences. Yes, we may know more about many things. But unless we establish a co-equal dialogue with our children, they will choose to ignore us.

And how can we blame them? Many, if not most, of them comprehend the dismal state of their families, the economy or the planet. They see the mess that we adults have left for them and wonder why they should listen to us at all.

Nevertheless, most teens are willing to listen and willing to talk if they are given a chance to do both. They seek our guidance, not our edicts.

For more than a decade I’ve been “working, playing, singing and, yes, dancing,” with teenagers. They talk with me because I don’t just talk “to” them — I talk “with” them — honestly, openly and with respect. I don’t assume I’m right because I’m older, and, most importantly, I don’t assume they’re wrong because they are younger. Most just want to be heard — listened to and respected. I am constantly amazed at the passion, depth and intelligence of many of their arguments and concerns.

What happened in banning grinding was one of the most disrespectful actions that this school has taken in years. It showed a complete disregard for the students.

It was yet another case of generational tyranny with adults telling kids that their thoughts, feelings and emotions weren’t important enough for them to be included in the dialogue. Communication indeed.

Children of all ages have something to teach us if we will just take the time to listen to them. Remember one thing — If children had always listened to their parents, we’d still be living in caves.

— Chris Ott, the father of four, is a theater director who was worked extensively with teens over the years.

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