Categorized | Opinion

You’re wrong about teens — I’ve got proof

By Mike T. Smith

Open Mike for webI hear it all the time. “You work with teenagers? Why bother?”
Too many see this generation growing up now as a lost cause. I don’t see it that way, and for that I’ve been accused of being naive. Sure I watch the news. I see the reports and stories of teenagers running in packs and beating up innocent people.
We all know there’s a lot of that in our local area. The recent events at the gas station in Midtown Memphis, and the Kroger on Highland involving teens doing some incredibly bad things. But there are also teens like Houston High graduate Ronald Nelson who was accepted into all eight Ivy League universities. All eight!
Then there are the teens who wake up early and participate in See You at the Pole gatherings across the country before class.
I not only speak locally but I travel and speak in front of massive audiences of teenagers. So I often stand in front of hundreds at a time.
At times I’m on a stage and sometimes I’m just a few feet away from them…and none of them have ever tried to hurt me. Out of thousands of people, I’ve only had three hecklers. I’ve taken time and had conversations with several after speaking engagements. There are some great teens out there. So maybe I’m not the naive one.
This past week I had the privilege of speaking at a camp in northern Illinois. The camp was for students in grades five through eight. It was a wonderful experience, especially seeing something I haven’t seen in years, which is a large group of teens playing outside and nobody looking at their smartphones. The camp was in the middle of nowhere and there was no cell phone reception. I even asked one of them how they were handling life with no internet access. Her reply, “I love it!”
The best part about it is the camp counselors. These are high school students who went through the camp as middle schoolers and now come back and sacrifice their own time to give back, and they knew there would be no cell service. Nobody tricked them into it.  It’s a cause they believe in and they happily give back. What makes it even more impressive is they have Finals in a few days. Honestly I was a bit more self absorbed at that age. I admire them for what they do and I was sure to tell them so.
There are teenagers across this country who are doing great things for themselves, their community, and the greater good. Let’s give them some publicity. These are the ones who deserve it.
Mike T. Smith is a youth motivational speaker and author of the book O.W.N. I.T. The Teen’s Cheat Codes to Life. Follow Mike on twitter at @MikeTSmith and sign up for email updates at
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June 2015
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