Dear Angry Student,
I know seventeen is a rough age. I know you spend all day everyday listening to adults tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. I know that you feel like you are capable of making all of your own decisions, and to an extent you’re right. You are craving freedom, autonomy. You want to do whatever feels right to you in any given moment. You have morals and a brain and you want to put them to the test without our interference.
I just hope you remember that every adult who gives you advice was seventeen once too. All of us women were once girls who liked boys and thought we knew enough about them to strike out on our own with them.
When you tell people a lot of information, most of them will have the natural reaction of wanting to give you their input. One thing I do now that I didn’t as a teenager is keep more things to myself. I used to think that secrets were just like lies and no one wants to be lied to. Now I know that there is freedom and autonomy in not having everyone’s opinion.
When you came into my office, gushing about your birthday and the boy you were going to allow to give you a “present,” you knew I would have a comment. You told me all about how you arrived at your decision and how you were going to teach him that he’s not the only one who is desirable. I told you to be careful not to use your body as currency, and to think again about whether you were going to act on the correct motives. After repeating your reasons and saying, “It’s not that big of a deal,” I told you that we often aren’t sure which of these encounters is going to be a “big deal” until long after they occur. You threw your hands up, said, “You just don’t get it!” and stormed out of my office. I tried to call you back but you shouted “No” over me as you exited my room.
I guess I was giving advice you didn’t want. There was no way for me to tell that you didn’t want it, though, since you told me all of the details. I think you wanted a pat on the back and for me to say, “Get him, girl! Show him who’s boss!” What you didn’t know is how much time I spend thinking about these types of topics. Giving your body to a boy on the premise of proving a point is ineffectual. Humans don’t typically learn lessons by getting what they want, but by being deprived of it. And your point is not worth proving if it leaves you crying alone the morning after.
No one likes to be told “no.” I get it. At twenty-eight, I don’t like it now any more than I did at eighteen or eight. Unfortunately, sometimes we want the wrong things. Sometimes our human nature (or the Bible would call it “sin nature”) pushes us toward an action based on a wrong belief. God gave us each other to help us. When friends and mentors and teachers give us advice, we ought to take it as a kindness that they want to protect us from unnecessary pain. Part of growing up is learning to maintain our kindness while we disagree with others. Friction will happen. Adults have all kinds of different opinions and perspectives. There is a way to say, “Thank you for your input,” and go on about your business, leaving others’ advice where you found it. You don’t have to fight with them.
Your attitude hurt my feelings a little. Teachers, parents and adults all have feelings, you know. I said a prayer and tried to focus on how to make our next interaction beneficial for you anyway. I hope I’ll succeed next time.
I still love you,
Oklahoma Teacher and Poet