The Challenges of Youth

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

It is not easy growing up. Most often, however, the tendency is to ignore the difficulties of life and pretend that they are really not happening, just a dream. After all, life is supposed to be great and exciting.

The teenage years seem to be the worst. Changing from childhood to adolescence can be the most difficult stage in development. It feels as though we do not fit anymore in the early years, and we do not understand what is ahead. Now begins the process of independence. We are so smart, needing no one to guide us. Now we are so involved in venturing into the world of the unknown. We are so worldly, needing no control or discipline. However, we are afraid at the same time.

There are difficulties understanding the journey of life that ask different questions, darker ones because the serious side of life’s happenings are incomprehensible: Why is my friend going through a serious illness? Why am I becoming involved with someone who is going to die?

And still, there are more daunting questions: Why am I experiencing abuse? Why am I influenced by my friends taking drugs or involved in experimental sex? Why is alcohol necessary to cope?

As teenagers we are confronted with so many whys and not enough answers. We just do not seem to fit. We try to find shelter, but then we grow to the stage of venturing out from the nest. We are confronted with so many different influences. Wanting to be accepted is the worst experiment in independence.

However, we lose sight of one important aspect of development. There can be positive outcomes with the right conditions. Challenges can make us stronger and more resilient. These doubts can become learning experiences that now challenge the mind, not the spirit.

Take for example, the episode in the movie, Me and Earl, and the Dying Girl. What a classic example of maturity and understanding, and development. Here a young man is thrust into a situation that even adults might find mind-boggling. Forced to befriend a girl suffering with cancer, the journey begins that will prove to be the most defining moment of life.

The various stages of comprehension are experienced, starting with resentment, to eventual compassion. Going through the various episodes in this dreaded disease is a sobering example of the difficulties we face in our yearning for longevity.

We finally realize that adversity will, most assuredly, strike everyone. It comes in many forms and in many ways. One thing it does to all is cause hurt, sometimes more, sometimes less. It can lead to an outcome that will have a negative impact on us lasting a lifetime, if it is not managed in a meaningful way. Most of all, it can lead to growth. The understanding of the difficulties people face results in a strength we never knew we possessed.

Certainly, it is tough growing up as a teenager in an adult world. I would suggest that what this movie does is help us grasp these realities. I would also suggest that the greatest gift given to us by this film is gaining faith in the ability to value life.