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Teenagers are incapable… until they aren’t

Gabrielle Douglas is 16 years old. This week she won 2 gold medals at the London Olympic games. She will be a junior in high school this year.

Missy Franklin is 17 years old. She also won 2 gold medals in London and owns 2 world records. She’s entering her senior year in high school.

If you want to see a few more stories about teenagers in the Olympics, The New York Times has a page dedicated to the endeavor.

The Capability vs. Expectations Gap

As a lover of teenagers universal and an often observer of their amazing capabilities— I enjoy the irony that America will celebrate Gabby and Missy’s victories as if they were their own daughters…

  • We acknowledge their physical prowess.
  • We acknowledge their dedication.
  • We admire the grace at which they handle their athletic events and the pressure of the world stage.
  • We admire the maturity in their handling sudden fame.

We each easily attribute downright adult descriptions on teenage Olympiads. 

This is ironic because from a societal perspective we don’t expect teenagers to be capable of such adult-like qualities. I mean… they can’t possibly be adults at 15-16-17, can they?

3 examples of this irony…

Raise expectations, friends. Most teenagers can do just about everything you can do… maybe better than you can. Let’s not just celebrate teenagers who hoist gold medals, let’s celebrate the capabilities of the teenagers in our lives.

And let’s kill agism, OK? Let’s judge people by what they can do instead.

Discover what their coaches know: When you expect someone’s very best, you’ll get it. When you expect nothing, you’ll get it.  

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5 Responses to Teenagers are incapable… until they aren’t

  1. Daniel Griswold August 6, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    I listened to an NPR story today about a Florida teen who developed an AI program to help detect certain cancers with a 99% amount of certainty and then again, I work with young people, who for some reason or other, have been in moratorium on certain types of growth and who are punishing themselves and others. There is such a spectrum (much like in adulthood) but the signs of growth (physically) in adolescence and the push back teens give (as they develop new mental powers of sarcasm, cynicism and humor), make the teenage years confusing. I also wonder if people tend to repress teen memories. In a class with Dean Borgman at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, he had us all close our eyes and remember what it was like being a teen. He instructed us to get out of bed. Asked us what our room looked like, how we felt. Who was in the house. Where did you have to be and who helped you get there? Big things then that I hadn’t thought of in a while. It was emotional and I’d imagine that some people doing that would be in tears remembering those sometimes painful years. And with an aging population, the misunderstandings are paramount. I recently went into a plantation where I live (a gated community) and despite myself being in the passenger’s seat, the teen I was with was basically given a screening process, his license number was taken, and car plate numbers written down to be let it. I felt violated for him – likely because one or two teens one time smashed some mailboxes. The agism drips. If an adult steals from a home, we don’t necessarily screen all adults. We have a hard job as advocates for young people.

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