“Coming home with straight A’s is fine, I’ll accept that, but what I’d rather have you do is come home and tell me something amazing that you learned in the spirit of doing something good for someone else, come home and tell me some really dramatic failure that occurred as you were trying to solve an interesting problem.”   -Seth Godin, on what school ought to be teaching

What an interesting view of education and setting meaningful learning objectives. Solve interesting problems and doing something good for someone else. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all kept these outcomes top of mind? Not just reserving this challenge for young people. If we were ever this way, why did we stop? 

I still vividly remember what it was like to be a teenager. My youthful passion gave rise to inspired goals on one hand and reckless behaviour on the other. I was up and down in the same sentence, let alone living for a full day. My emotions were on a high setting, all the time. I could pivot from anger to joy with ease and I didn’t see how confusing that was to people around me, particularly my parents. It was intense. Sometimes it took my breath away.

Now, as I watch and listen to my teens, I see it all over again. Instead of turning away in exhaustion, I signed up for a full course. Here we are travelling around the world, living in extremely close quarters spending a lot of time together. This is a crucial developmental phase for a teen, a time for optimism and investment. We are painfully aware of this narrow window of opportunity to promote positive ways of thinking and acting. These few years represent the foundation of social and emotional learning. Stuff that cannot be gained in a traditional classroom or from peer relationships, alone.

“Us teenagers are at the perfect crossroads of childish naiveté and adult realism — we still believe that problems can be solved, and now we also have the tools and knowledge to solve them.”   –Adora Svitak

There is no question that they are smarter than us, at least in certain ways. They talk as fast as they think on a variety of topics. It is only, in those rare moments when we know something they don’t, do we get the floor with uninterrupted silence. Only then. This makes for lively conversations, particularly at mealtimes. I marvel at the degree of enthusiasm they have for even the most mundane topics. It is fascinating to watch, most of the time. 

The bloom is off the rose when they decide to argue. With each other or with us, the parents. Holy moly, I forgot the drama of the debate. Sometimes I don’t think they even hear themselves, as they are digging in for a fight. Something silly like a bed time or a waking hour agreement or school work. You would think we had sentenced them to life in prison, not just the minimum number of hours of sleep we expect them to get. Or the maximum hours of screen time they are allowed.

“Arguing with a teenager is like wrestling in the mud with a pig. Sooner or later you figure out that they’re enjoying it.”   -Anonymous

Then there are times when our young adult travelling companions are humbled by a shared experience. When we had the incident with missing travel documents and were denied boarding our flight and everything else that went along with that day, there was a new-found respect for the old seasoned travellers in our group. At one point my son wondered how I could be so calm? That is a case where age has its advantages. We don’t think as fast, so maybe we don’t spiral out of control as quickly. We are better able to stay calm and ask questions for clarification. All the while, thinking about what to do next. Drawing on years of experience with similar circumstances. 

While the younger brains can run circles around us older folks with technology and they are up on the latest trends in fashion, entertainment and music, they recognize that every expedition needs experienced leaders and navigators. In this mutual respect we are each learning how to play our part, to the best of our ability and be grateful for the talents of each other. We all have a role in making this journey successful. Everyone is critical and necessary in their own way. We continually learn and grow with each other. In that spirit, even the parents need to step back and listen to the teens, now and then.

The result is the forging of a new relationship between parent and child. We are getting to know each other as a family in a way I never thought possible. We are sharing everything from physical space to emotional triumphs and even sometimes sadness. There is nowhere to hide, no time to let anger simmer and boil over. We have to face stuff head on, together as a family team. Sometimes this is challenging, but more of the time it is fun. I will always remember this year as the time I spent being schooled by my teenagers in the most important aspects of their lives.

I am painfully aware that if we had stayed at home, our relationship as a family would have been worse. We were all drifting apart. As is the normal case for teenagers to break free from their parents, bit by bit. Instead we decided to come together for one last epic family adventure. In many ways, this is the achievement I am most proud of in my whole life. Having the kids was the easy part. Helping them realize their full potential as adults, that is tough work. 

What I know for sure is, our teenagers have strong opinions which are continually being challenged and revised as we travel. What the world has to teach them is far more impactful when it becomes part of their lived experience. In turn, us old folks are learning an even greater lesson about our children from the way they manage everything that is being thrown at them. All of it, is priceless.

#creaspatreat – Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com

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Christine Westermark

I am a world traveller, lucky enough to have a loving family who support my dreams to learn, create and give back by designing creative content which enables a lifestyle we don't need a vacation from.

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Teenagers are teachers, if we listen instead of lecture

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