On July 11, 17-year-old Kailen Young was washing windows outside the Hardee's in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked. Kailen was "caught in the act" when another customer, David Yardley, took a picture of the teen helping an elderly woman to her car.
This picture has made the rounds on Facebook after it was posted by Yardley to the Hardee's Facebook page. The beautiful shot of a simple act of kindness has been shared more than 4,000 times in just a few weeks.
There's a reason people are so attracted to this photo, and it's not just because it makes you go, "Awww." It's because it challenges everything we know about the typical American teenager, a collective group that most people (not just parents) consider selfish and lazy. As we saw in the Baltimore riots of 2015, some even go so far as to call them thugs and criminals.
But is it warranted? People are sharing this photo and taking it to viral status because it paints a very different picture of the American teenager. This teen, Kailen Young, is more unsung hero and less soon-to-be criminal. He took time out of his workday to help a woman in need, and he didn't expect to get any credit for it.
The thing is, Kailen is hardly the exception to the rule. There are plenty of teenagers with open minds and open hearts who are making a difference in this world, but they are very rarely recognized for it. They're overshadowed by the so-called criminals, and they're underestimated by the older population that's convinced every generation is worse than the last.
This just isn't true. What about the teenager who stepped in front of a car to save her friend as her dying wish? Or the teen with autism who saved his mom's life by helping to pull her from a burning car? Or the many teenagers who speak out against bullying with the hope that their stories could save another teenager from depression or suicide? We don't hear enough about them in the news.
The teenagers in this new generation aren't all bad — quite the contrary. Now called Generation Z, with those under 18 making up 26 percent of the population, today's teens are seen as the individualist generation, which means they aren't afraid to take risks and elicit change. These teens aren't sitting in the basement and playing video games, like you see on TV. They're paying attention, they're plugged in, and they're more socially aware than ever, shaped by life-altering world events like recent school shootings and 9/11. When Stage of Life surveyed 390 high school students, 96.5 percent of teens said they had performed a random act of kindness, and 65 percent of students preferred to do it alone — without any credit.
This kind of social awareness and compassion isn't something you just pick up, and you aren't always born with it. It's the kind of thing you learn at home by watching how your parents treat other people with love and respect. When you think of it that way, it really puts the "terrible teens" in perspective. Teenagers are learning how to face the world at home, whether it's destructive or uplifting. If we are so sick of teens acting like selfish idiots, let's stop treating them that way.
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