How To Shine For the People Making Decisions about Your Life...While Others Dull In the Background
I know, I know, adults show you NO RESPECT and look down on you. They label you as entitled, rude, lazy and other unflattering names. Working as an attorney and doing volunteer work, I interact with teens and discuss a variety of topics. Inevitably, the conversation always seems to circle around teens feeling a lack of respect from adults. I must admit, many adults don’t show a great deal of respect for teens. To make progress, something has to change. So who’s going to go first?! Teens I challenge you to be the bigger person and go first…after all, the adults usually hold all the power in helping you get where you want to be. Play smart!!
Below, I highlight a few practices that will assist in demolishing the teen/adult disconnect. Employing these practices will set you apart and impress the decision-makers in your life, the people who decide, "Will I give her this job," "Should we extend an internship," "I know she didn't do well her first quarter here, but should I give her a second chance," and "I can arrest her or give her a warning...which one should I do!?!"
Appearance: This is a biggie!! Recently, I went to a top-tier bank in the area. I was so excited to see a young African-American man working there. I noticed he was wearing his nicely pressed shirt that was tucked neatly into his pants, and a bank-issued vest on top of the shirt, along with a pair of slacks. When he walked by me, I said to myself that I was happy the bank is hiring African-Americans. Then he kept walking, and I saw the back of his shirt was not tucked-in, but hanging outside of his pants…..to cover his behind since his pants were sagging so low. I just about screamed. Given a choice between him and another employee, who do you think would be promoted?! I’m always amazed at how often I hear from teens, “Don’t judge me on my appearance.” Teens, that will NEVER happen. People will ALWAYS judge you by your appearance. Do not miss out on an opportunity based on your appearance. Whatever image you have of yourself, you need to portray that in your appearance. A friend of mine recently sponsored a college tour; one of the students wore a suit to the tour and the President of the college was so impressed, he awarded him with a full scholarship to the university! In a gang murder trial I handled, my client dressed nicely every day at the trial and instead of deciding the case on the evidence, after the trial one of the jurors told me, “I looked at him and said, ‘He wouldn’t do that to his mother!’” She voted NOT GUILTY in part based on his appearance and body language. In another serious trial, one of the jurors told the judge she couldn’t be on the jury because the defendants had tattoos on their face and anyone who gets tattoos on their face isn’t a normal person; she thought she would be influenced to vote guilty based on the tattoos alone.
Language: I am always shocked by the curse words I hear teens using around me. It used to be that teens would never use offensive language when adults came around. Not only the cursing, but the slang used on adults is mind-boggling. If you bump into an adult, “My bad!” is probably not the best thing to say to them. Try words like, “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” or “Are you ok?” Slang is for the street corner or when you’re hanging out with your friends. When you are in the presence of adults, speak clearly when making your point and listen quietly and politely when they’re making theirs. When asked a question, although I never expect it, I am personally beyond impressed when I hear, “Yes, mam,” or a “Yes, sir.”
Body language: As has become even more obvious in recent news, those unfamiliar with our culture seem to view African-American youth as aggressive and threatening. Unfortunately, it is a reality around which you must navigate. Do yourself a favor, bless us with a smile every now and then. A scowl can give the impression that you are angry or dangerous. Hold your head high, showing confidence and make eye contact when holding a conversation. Anytime you meet someone, give them a firm handshake and introduce yourself. I was never taught to do this at a young age and it is still an effort to remember this practice. So, when I see a young person approach me and introduce themselves before I even have a chance to start a conversation, I say to myself, “That kid will go far,” and I immediately become jealous that I wasn’t that polished at their age. In fact, a few years ago, I was actually feeling rather shy at a networking mixer at my old law school, when a young law student walked up to me and introduced herself. A month later, she was working for me as a paralegal which helped her pay her way through school. Remember, shine while others dull in the background.
Persistence/Follow through: If you need something from someone and they’re busy, don’t give up. Contact them again and again. My paralegal had to email me three times before I had time to respond...then, I hired her. If you say you’re going to do something, DO IT. Your friends and parties will always be there later; never sacrifice your goals for a good time.
Communication: Texting your boss that you’re not coming to work is not the best plan of action. How do you know that they received it? How do they know the tone in which you meant to convey when you texted your message? When you typed, “Sick, not coming in,” did you only mean to let your boss know you weren’t coming in or did you want to make him/her feel at ease, meaning to say in a live voice, “Hi Mr. Thomas, I have the flu and I don’t want to get anyone else sick, so I won’t be in today.” The second choice shows your concern for other people and that you’re not just missing work for some bogus reason. Hearing a live voice is always better than a cold “lazy” text. Adults like clear, concise communication.
This list could go on, but for now, I just want to encourage you to consider some of these changes. Teens, we love you and no one is rooting for you more than we are…but you have to meet us halfway. Think about and adopt some of these suggestions and I guarantee you will get positive reactions from the adults in your world.