(Originally posted 3./17/10)
Ok…Let’s face it. Some folks don’t like caterpillars very much. They are very wormy-looking. They might look a little slimy or hairy. But for the most part, lots of people think that they are cute little critters. They appear to be curious, lifting up their little antennae-decked heads to sniff around. Their colors are often beautiful. And as we all know…they are hungry. :o)
Children have been compared to caterpillars before. Yes, I know…they often run around in a way caterpillars never do. But……when it’s time to get ready to go to school? Put on their pajamas? Yup. Caterpillars.
They are curious. They can be fuzzy. They can be adorable. They can also be hairy, slimy and wormy. And boy oh boy can they eat!!
If children are caterpillars, then adolescents must living in a chrysalis. How perfect is that? They create a tough, ugly, protective coat of armor. Underneath it they look as if they are sleeping…if you can see them at all. There is little visible movement, although, over time, a great deal of change. The shell keeps the world at bay until those changes take place.
Now caterpillars are a little luckier. They can plant themselves on a tree branch and hang out. No one is making them get up, get dressed, get to class, get a job and get moving while they get their act together. Teens are not as lucky. It’s no wonder then that they look for ways to pull the armor (hoodie, hair, shades) over their eyes and withdraw. They need that withdrawal in order to work on their metamorphosis.
In our society, we have pushed adolescents to come so far out of their shells that it is inevitable that they find ways to crawl back in. Society says “Get good grades, take as many classes as you can, get a part-time job, play a sport, play an instrument, go to church, have friends, have a boy/girlfriend, help around the house, volunteer, demonstrate leadership….. or you will not be successful.”
Is it any wonder that our students end up using chemicals, over-involved in sex or participating in self-injury? That shell is there for a reason. The evolving creature is very very vulnerable. Yet, this is the time that we push the hardest for young people to get out and expose themselves to the world.
I’m not advocating that we lock our teens up in a protective fortress. They are, after all, NOT caterpillars. However, I do think that we occasionally owe them time, space, activities, and permission to withdraw…just a bit….from the childhood and adult activities going on all around them…in order to find a little peace. They have enough going on inside to keep them busy. Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t find them going so far off of the deep end to do it for themselves.
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