Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

If you yell, I won’t listen.


If there’s something that I can’t stand in a person, it’s yelling at someone. If you are a grown adult, don’t yell at another grown adult. It makes you sounds idiotic and just plain mean. And I won’t listen to you. I’ll lose all respect for you.

I was in a situation last week where I had to deal with listening to someone scream at another person who was trying to help them. All week. I was disgusted… it was unnecessary and just plain horrible. There’s nothing worse than watching an adult yell at someone like they’re a child. If you’re angry, frustrated, disappointed… there’s always another way to convey it. Use your words. Take a deep breath, regroup, then tell the person what you really mean to say. Respect everyone, even those you are angry with, as a human being capable of human emotions. Yelling does nothing but show them how awful you really are. It does nothing but hurt them.

I learned how to express my anger through improv. When you first start improvising, you learn that you should never fight onstage. Fighting is cheap and goes nowhere. It doesn’t move your point across and will eventually make everyone uncomfortable. It shows your scene partner that instead of making an emotional connection with them, you’re only interested in showing your authority over them. So what happens is that you spend about a year never having a single “fight” onstage. You’re almost always happy… or expressing some form of happiness.

Then you’re taught how to convey negative emotions in a constructive way. You can feel angry in a scene… but you have to understand that it’s not just anger. So you can’t just scream at someone. For example, I was in a scene where my husband had a gambling problem that he was just telling me about. He lost all of our money. As an improviser, you’re also an actor. You want the audience to find you believable. So the basic human instinct was that I was angry. Okay, that’s justified. But is it really only anger? Of course not. Dissect it and you’ll find that it’s really disappointment. I felt betrayed, sad, embarrassed and as if all my trust was taken in that moment. Why? Because I loved my husband. That’s what it is at the core. I was angry because I loved him so much and he betrayed me. You are taught to express that. Don’t just start yelling. Have a conversation. Find out the story. Give him an ultimatum. Tell him why you’re hurt… what this now means… how it is going to affect the rest of your life. Then find a way to fix it. Don’t just yell. Yelling is cheap and hurtful. And it gets you nowhere.

So, I hold this true in real life. If you’re going to yell at me then I’m not going to listen. You’re not doing me the decency of expressing your true emotion and feelings surrounding the subject. You’re only trying to hurt me. I won’t give you that satisfaction. If you have something to say to me, pull me aside and tell me. Let me know that I disappointed you. Then we can find a way to fix whatever I did wrong. Don’t just yell.

In the end, you want it to be fixed, right? Whatever problem is at hand needs to go away eventually. Take the time that you would have spent yelling and instead convey your disappointment through words. Through a conversation. Instead of the person completely shutting you out, you’ll be able to find a way for the problem to be fixed.

I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. But next time you feel your blood boiling, next time you just want to grab someone and scream your lungs out, walk outside instead. Scream into your pillow. Meditate. Do whatever it takes for you to regroup and understand why you’re really mad. Then go back and convey your emotions in a humane and constructive way.