To the Student It May Concern: Why Adults Act Like They Know Everything

To the student it may concern,

You don’t know me, but I want to speak to you now, while the school year is still a little new. I usually write very long things but I promise to keep this note to a single page.

Like all adults, I think I understand you, and like all youth, you think no one understands you. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and contrary to the times we live in, truth still matters. Here is a truth: adults do understand you. Every adult used to be one of you. Maybe not you specifically, but probably someone else in your school. The reason why it often seems like we don’t understand is because adults get caught up in our individual stories. The things that happened to us become “the way things are, period”. That’s okay in a math class when you have to add a couple of things together, but it’s not how the world works.

Most adults stop trying to learn things after a certain point in their lives. We think we have everything figured out because our lives look a certain way or we own certain things. But any adult who is being completely honest with you will tell you that they have regrets and that there are things they still want to do but don’t for one reason or another: money, time, energy, health, commitments, fear. It’s just how life shook out for them. And adults often find it easier to stay in their lane than allow the world to teach them how to strive for more out of their lives. We let our jobs become who we are or set aside our dreams because they seem beyond the people we have become or the risk too high.

You will notice that I haven’t used the word “parent” so far. That’s because almost all adults act this way whether they have children or not, and when we interact with youth we tend to act on a natural impulse to teach. All adults want to teach. Sometimes the lessons are horrible or the teacher is unqualified, but the impulse to fix the future they could not create is there. We all think we have the right answers. Most of the time we just have the answer that was right for us.

Again, every adult used to be young once. In that sense, we do understand you. We may not know the individual you (and we should definitely be listening more than we preach), but we understand you as a human being. It is the hope of people my age that people your age will be better than us. And since we know what we did when we were your age, we spend a lot of our time with you trying to steer you toward things that will make you better than us. We often do this without knowing what you may need as an individual, but we mean well.

All of this will not be true for every adult you know. This may not be true for every adult in your home. I promise you that it is true for most adults you will encounter. We all want to teach – we can’t help it – and much like school, you have lots of teachers to choose from. My advice is to ask them, directly, things you want to know. Here’s a cheat code: if you can, ask them around other adults so you can get a bunch of ideas at the same time. We’re pretty good at pointing out how we’ve messed things up, and eager to tell you how not to mess them up further. Take us up on it once in a while.

When I was your age I thought I knew everything. I didn’t, not by a long shot, and I also wasn’t wise or strong enough to turn to an adult and just ask about what I wanted to fix. The world wants to understand you. It wants this because it wants to be better, and not all lessons will come through a textbook. When we become adults we get stuck in our ways, so we’re pretty much a lost cause hoping that the people who come after us do everything better. Those people are you. As adults we struggle every day with what we used to be, what we want to be, and what we are. Sound familiar? All of this is why it can be hard for us to communicate, but you should press us to try, and if you ask us to do it better, most of us will step up. As you can see, we love running our mouths.

Good luck this year,

Scott Woods
Columbus, Ohio
September 2018

Me when I was 15. See? It happens to all of us.

2 thoughts on “To the Student It May Concern: Why Adults Act Like They Know Everything

  1. Wise advice, Scott. Perhaps we as adults would do well to ask for help too once in a while and admit we don’t have all the answers and perhaps there are alternatives to the choices we make.

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