I have enjoyed and learned so much from working in a high school setting and with working with teenagers. In a very short time, I will be working with a lot of teenagers. A lot. One thing I’m reminded of often while working with some teenagers is their level of frustration with hypocrisy they see from their parents. Sometimes these views reveal themselves in formal discussions or debates while sometimes, as I move about the classroom or stand at my lectern, I hear snippets of clipped conversations between students being critical of their parents. I have heard complaints from teens who are told to live and act one way while their parents do the very opposite. I cringe whenever I hear parents say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The inference a teen may walk away with is there are different rules for parents. Parents can say things and not mean them. If a parent is going to emphasize the importance of a trait, habit or virtue, they should be growing and applying it in their lives. Right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. What many teenagers may not realize is that their parents are also learning how to parent; they too are students. Many parents actively seek ways to improve their communication and relationship with their teens while others, for a variety of reasons, don’t. Nevertheless, as parents grow in their parenting, eventually there is a season of revelation where they realize, “Oh dang, my parents were right about a whole lot of things!”
One thing I often do with frustrated teenagers is ask them certain questions to enhance their perspective of things they’re frustrated with, i.e., “things my parents tell me.” I’ll tell my students, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been 21.” Nobody raises their hand. “Raise your hand if you’ve been 25 or 30.” Again, nobody raises their hand. Teens have not walked the roads of these ages. There’s much on these roads, good and bad. When I share life experiences with students, to some degree, I hope they trust what I’m saying because I’ve walked those ages. For example, if I traveled to a different country, I may need the help of a tour guide, someone who knows the landscape, the country; someone who can steer me towards the good and keep me from the bad. I would have to trust this person knows what they’re talking about and is genuine. That’s not always easy. I do hope they’re able to see their parents are like these tour guides and certainly wish these relationships are always strong.
Nevertheless, many times they will use words like fake and posers to critique everyone from friends, classmates, teachers and parents. I do not allow this to turn simply into an opportunity to ruthlessly bash others as much as it is an opportunity to let teenagers release some angst, to listen to each other and to create an opportunity where I may jump in and guide towards some healthy perspective and action. If you have ever watched the Breakfast Club then you know the criticisms against parents are numerous. And if you are the parent of a teenager, then you know the criticisms against you, maybe, are legion.
Nevertheless, as easy as it is for teenagers to be critical of the flaws of others, I make it a point of bringing the question back to them and asking them, “To what degree are you fake?” They don’t like when I do this. I’m not supposed to do this. I poked the bear. However, I know I am being a good teacher when I ask them this question because to some degree, we’re all a little fake from time to time and for a variety of reasons. It is much better to be aware of our own flaws than to fixate on the flaws of others. Critiquing others is light work, easy. Facing yourself, however, is real work.
Growing up, I loved watching professional wrestling. I was a certifiable, wrestling geek. I didn’t just watch what was known then as the World Wrestling Federation, the unmistakable major leagues of professional wrestling now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. On ESPN, I watched both the original World Championship Wrestling aired from the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas and the American Wrestling Association. AWA is where I first saw The Midnight Rockers, Scott Hall, Rick Martel and Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. Then there was the National Wrestling Alliance with such wrestling icons as Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, Sting, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff and The American Dream Dusty Rhodes. If I was not watching wrestling Saturday morning, I was watching it Monday night on the USA network. On really special nights, the WWF would televise Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC. On one particular Saturday Night’s Main event, Hulk Hogan and “The Macho Man” Randy Savage fought The Twin Towers, Akeem and The Big Boss Man. Later in the match, the Macho Man turns on Hulk Hogan. He slaps him in the ring and then assaults him in the locker room. I was so mad. I cried. I watched in shock as this dream team exploded. I ran to my room, stomped around in anger and punched the closet door. For real, this happened. Many years later, I came to understand or rather, I conceded that wrestling is scripted, the match is choreographed and the outcomes determined and fixed. I’ve long understood that when the Macho Man turned on Hulk Hogan and assaulted him in the back locker room, the Hulkster knew it was coming brother! It wasn’t a surprise to him. Later I learned that Hogan and the Macho Man were friends in real life. As wrestling documentaries and shoots (candid, no holds barred interviews) on Youtube have emerged over the years, wrestling fans learn that their heroes, the “face,” are often friends with their enemies, the bad guy, also known as the “heel.” Unless you’re Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Actually, they have made amends.
When fictional characters like wrestlers drop the veil of violence and break character, it is referred to as “breaking kayfabe.” According to Merriam-Webster, in the 80’s, “wrestlers began using the word kayfabe in reference to the staged performance presented as authentic as well as to the act of maintaining the fiction by staying in character.” In decades past, the sin of breaking kayfabe violated a pact among wrestlers. In order for wrestling fans to be truly vested in the story lines and conflict between faces and heels, it was vital to maintain the fiction of their hatred towards each other. In other terms, it’s known as “breaking the fourth wall,” that point where the performance of the art is violated, exposing it as false.
Professional wrestlers, however, are not the only ones who work hard at staying in character and maintaining the fiction. Social media now allows for every individual to live in their own fiction. It’s no surprise to anyone the ease at which we curate our online presence with only the best and brightest moments. But doesn’t this emphasize the kayfabe-self rather than our most genuine self? We’ve become too enamored with fantasy and have shunned keeping it real.
Happy life moments are not all of life. There are also difficult times and it is exactly these moments that bring about some of the most vital elements of life: comfort, support, encouragement, prayer, hope, faith. These are the balms for disappointment.
I’m not advocating for complete confessionals in social media posts and I admit, I’m not completely sure how one should balance sharing the good and bad moments of life. However, I have learned a few important things over the past three years, years filled with divorce, depression, failed relationships and doubt. First, it’s important to have a small circle of confidantes you can talk to rather than using social media to broadcast all of your hurts. If you’re an introvert, like me, you may have to work doubly; alone time and reflection are important for self-awareness but if not careful, these may be the means to bring about isolation and despair. Additionally, people are wise enough generally to make inferences of where you’re at in life based off of status changes and the content of your posts. Secondly, it’s okay to be real and human. Things in life really do hurt and they hurt men just as much as they hurt women. If you’re thinking of communicating such hurt through social media, be brief and take the high road. Maybe there’s a quote you want to share, a picture, or simply what’s on your mind. The maxim, “Less is more,” I feel applies well in these instances. Finally, mind your walk and stay positive. Even the most hurtful and painful moments are within the reach of peace and restoration. It will take time and sacrifice but the better you are able to handle hurt in a healthy way, the better you’ll be able to support others beginning a trial you have overcome. That is where you’ll see a purpose to your suffering, where you become the shoulder to cry on you never had and a small light in a dark place. And there’s nothing wrong with that.