Q: You obviously have a great empathy for kids who are in the junior-high years - especially those who are rejected and ridiculed by their peers. Have you always felt that way about that age group, which many adults don't like to be around?
My concern for early adolescents dates back to the years I spent teaching in junior high school. I was only 25 years old at the time, and I fell in love with 250 science and math students. The day I left to accept other responsibilities, I fought back the tears. Some of the kids were hurting badly, and I developed a keen sensitivity to their plight. Let me illustrate how I saw them.
Years later, I was sitting in my car at a fast-food restaurant, eating a hamburger and french fries. I happened to look in the rearview mirror. There, I saw the most pitiful, scrawny, dirty little kitten on a ledge behind my car. I was so touched by how hungry she looked that I got out, tore off a piece of my hamburger and tossed it to her. But before this kitten could reach it, a huge gray tomcat sprang out of the bushes, grabbed the morsel and gobbled it down. I felt sorry for the kitten, who turned and ran back into the shadows, still hungry and frightened.
I was immediately reminded of those kids I used to teach. They were just as needy, just as deprived, just as lost as that little kitten. It wasn't food that they required; it was love and attention and respect that they needed, and they were desperate for it. And just when they opened up and revealed the pain inside, one of the more popular kids would abuse and ridicule them, sending them scurrying back into the shadows, frightened and alone.
We must never forget the pain of trying to grow up and of the competitive world in which many adolescents live today. Taking a moment to listen, to care, and to direct such a youngster may be the best investment of a lifetime.