Erick Rommel

Erick Rommel

It’s not easy being a teen.

People who don’t know you look at you and see a kid. It doesn’t matter how mature you are or how much talent you have. They don’t see you. They see your age.

It’s frustrating. You see adults repeating mistakes and you want to show them what to do differently, but many times you don’t even try. You know you’ll hear a condescending, “You don’t understand.” Or, even worse, a patronizing, “That’s a good idea,” followed by absolutely no change.

Sometimes adults are correct: You don’t understand. But occasionally you are right and it’s infuriating when others don’t listen to you. It generates a feeling of a world trying to squeeze you into a box where you don’t belong.

Kyle Schwartz discovered those feelings in her third-grade students. Schwartz is a teacher in Denver. More than 90 percent of her students come from underprivileged homes. To better understand her students, Schwartz created a lesson plan in which students finished the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew …”

The responses were painfully honest, notes left by children too young to be jaded and too honest to hide their true feelings. Some spoke about hardship: “I wish my techer knew I don’t have pencals at home to do my homework.”

Another wrote of an empty home: “I wish my teacher knew sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom is not around a lot.”

A third student wrote of a family torn apart: “I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad because he got deported to mexcio when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in 6 years.”

Schwartz shared her students’ notes on Twitter with the hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew. Among the most heartbreaking: “I wish my teacher knew I don’t have friend to paly with me.”

I wonder who that student will become? Will that student share his or her feelings through poetry? Will she channel anger into sports? Will he sit quietly, imagining no one knows he’s there? Most important, will that person have a friend?

Teens face turmoil similar to that expressed by the children who wrote the notes. Sometimes a teen can build a wall that separates the world of who they are and who they want people to think they are.

It’s easy to trap yourself on the side of that wall where you feel safe. Don’t get caught in that trap. You will always encounter bullies, people who build themselves up by tearing you down.

If someone says you don’t understand, prove to them that you do understand. If someone doesn’t implement your good idea, demand a reason.

When you take a stand, you’ll discover power you never knew you had. Sometimes it’s a voice for what’s right; at other times, it’s a lesson in humility, as you may learn you were wrong. That doesn’t mean you should remain silent.

What do you wish people knew about you today? It’s a simple question. But, to make a difference, you have to get out from behind your wall and share it with everyone.

That’s all it takes for people to see you for who you are.