Last week I interviewed writer Graeme Armstrong, who wrote “The Young Team” about life as a young man in a gang, full of alcohol, drugs, violence and trauma.
He has shown that even written off lives can be changed, that in every young person whose education has not been completed, who comes into conflict with the law, whose ambition is slowed down, there is unused talent.
Sometimes it just takes a person or an event to start the change that changes a life. For him, it was the book Trainspotting that led to a love of literature.
I often think that raising teenagers is a bit like being in the control center of the Apollo 13 mission. After an explosion on board, the mission to the moon was canceled and to get home, the crew had to drag contactlessly around the other side of the moon in a cold, damp cabin until they finally got back on course and landed safely on earth.
I think teenagers can also deviate from the course, lose touch and yet we hope and pray that at some point they will return to the calling frequency and get back on track. It’s terrifying for parents with teenagers or young people who embrace chaos wholeheartedly and whose lives are intertwined with alcohol, drugs, or general chaos. I’ve met parents whose anguish is written on their faces, who confiscate drugs and weapons, and who often try in vain to keep their teenagers indoors.
It has always been like that. Peter the Hermit wrote in 1274 AD: “The world is going through difficult times. Young people today think only of themselves. They are not in awe of parents or old age. You are impatient for any reluctance. They talk as if they knew everything, and what counts as wisdom with us is folly with them. “
Years of working with many young people in their teens and early twenties regularly resulted in traits: a love of risk, the feeling of imperturbability and the fact that they would live forever, the intoxication of being with friends who thought or thought exactly the same not at all. Sometimes even more disturbing, they embraced nihilism, believed in nothing and hell that was out to destroy. Many of these traits are part of the developing adolescent brain, and humans grow out of them.
The constant in Graeme Armstrong’s life in all this chaos was his mother – his mission control, always there. She kept calling, even when he had no radio contact.
We need to do this for all of our young people, no matter how distant they appear. When they’re immersed in social media we need to call, ask what’s going on, try to keep an interest in their life and that of their friends. It’s a fine balance.
They need privacy, but still have an online life that is all consuming and as real as the bricks and mortar that surround them in their homes. This online life is hidden from parents, online friendships are made and broken, fights started, challenges made, alliances formed, plans developed and sometimes this leads to crime.
So to the parents who keep calling and hoping that their message will be heard at some point.