Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Stole The Smile From America's Youth?

How do kids with joyful hearts turn into brooding smile-less teens?
credit @ucla_pucla fotolia

The last few weeks of dropping my kids at summer day camp have been more harried than before. You see, we drop them at a middle school and there have been young people gathered lately for drivers' ed and other summer classes.

I am not one of those adults intimidated by the judging eyes of young people as you pass them. I don't care what they think of me or my outfit. I happen to know that for a 39 year old - I rock it.

What has bothered me is how few of them actually smile.

At each other.

At little kids walking by.

At me. When I am smiling at them.

What is up with that? Who stole the smile from today's kids?

Now I am sure there are many reading who will say..."Denise, c'mon. You remember being a brooding youth, don't you?"

My answer to that is no. I don't. I remember being awkward. In-secure. Feeling "uncool" and ugly. But I was not without joy. I welcome anyone from jr. high or high school to dispute this if I'm rewriting history.

Even with my dad's second marriage imploding and the strict rules they made live by that should have made me buck crazy wild - I was a content adolescent. I remember people writing big lips (making fun of my full luscious lips) on my campaign posters in high school and lots of other hurtful episodes but I still got up everyday and found a reason to smile.

Did I smile all the time? Doubtful.

But I never remember not returning a smile.

When people smile at you - it's contagious - most people smile back. Not so with these kids. I have watched and picked out several to smile at repeatedly and I get nothing. I've held the door open and smiled. Nada.  I've said "Good morning" with a big smile. Zilch.  I've practically run into some of these young people with a huge, warm smile and got blank stares in return.

I get that life is hard. I know some of them are hurting because they are facing rejection, abandonment, broken connections with family, abuse. Statistically speaking - all of the aforementioned calamities are touching at least one of the kids I pass every morning. But I'm here to tell them it's OK.

I smile to reassure them that whatever life is handing you - you can fight back with a small gesture of kindness. I smile to give them the hug they may have missed from a loved one. I smile to let them know they are "cool" "cute" "popular" and whatever other adjective they are looking for that day.

I smile at today's young people to show them that we have a choice in how we move through our lives. Regardless of what you are facing - you can make a choice.

A simple choice to smile. Smile in the mirror. Smile at your friends. Smile at the weird woman with a flower in her afro who smiles at you.

Can I ask my tribe to do something, too? It is my experience that kids don't just "turn out" a certain way - they learn behaviors. So can we all smile? Next time you see a bunch of young people - especially the ones with their hair not combed or their pants hanging off their butts or the ones with the shorts shorter than you'd like  - take a moment and SMILE at those kids.

They need it. Perhaps more than you know.

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