Teenagers are my heroes

Okay, so to be more specific, there are two Austin teenagers who are my personal heroes. I don’t know their names, or the names of any of their 20-odd friends who
stood around and watched while they changed my tire in a parking lot at 2am late Sunday night. But I do know that there could not have been a more Heavenly-clad Angel than those two young men.

So let’s back up a bit. Here’s the lead-up to the event late Sunday night:

Last week I spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday preparing and filming for a documentary (which will probably be released in March 2009, but I’ll be sure and let you know more when it comes about). Then on Thursday I drove to Dallas to participate in a training with the First Unitarian Universalist Church to become a trained Our Whole Lives: Sexuality and Our Faith educator for Middle and High School students. In addition to partaking in this rigorous and exhausting training, I stayed up late with my 18-year-old brother. My brother and I haven’t had much chance to chill without my children metaphorically pulling his hair and stepping on his toes, so I was happy to take the chance that presented itself. Sunday night at 6pm, my brother graduated from High School (something we weren’t sure would happen until Friday afternoon) and I didn’t get on the road home until 9:30 at night.

So I was tired. I was really, really, really tired in a deep, emotional way. But more than sleep, I wanted to get home to snuggle with my kids. So home I came.

I was maybe fifteen miles from home, at 1:30am, and my tire exploded. On a highway. On a bridge. Over a lake. I cried. Literally.

And then I drove my car as slowly as I could down the highway (terrified as cars whipped around me at six or seven times the speed I was going) to the next exit and pulled in to a 24-hour pancake shop.

Embarrassingly, I have no idea how to change a tire.

So I’m sitting in the parking lot, looking at my torn-up tire, when approximately 30,000 cars come screaming in – and one of them (a blue sports car) almost runs me over. 100,000 teenagers jump out of the cars, much like circus clowns, and start swarming towards the promise of pancakes. I am devastated because my last hope before waiting 45 minutes for a tow truck was to ask the pancake host to change my tire, and there was no way that was going to happen any more.

Until two of the teenagers start rummaging through my open trunk without looking at me or speaking to me.

So here’s where someones gut reaction to teenagers becomes crystal clear. Do you trust them or not? Do you think, as a group, they are good people, or out to bother you? Do you:

(1) start screaming at the inconsiderate teenagers for trying to steal your stuff in front of you?


(2) start crying and thanking them for changing your tire?

If you chose option (1), you might still be at that pancake shop waiting for a tow truck. These two youth were quick and effective tire-changers, and something of elaborate showmen as well.

These two youth were, in fact, heroes. Angels. My saviors.

So look at teenagers next time you’re out. They probably don’t look any different from the kind and generous teenagers who changed my tire so unexpectedly. Really, they probably don’t. Really, really and truly, regardless of how outrageously or thuggishly dressed or adorned they look, they look no more so than my heroes.

Here is my challenge to you: Be as kind and open and non-judgemental to each and every teenager you see on the street as this group was to me. Look them in the eye. Smile. Say hi. If you can provide them any service, then do it! And let me know how it goes – or how it has gone in the past if you’re already bridging that generational gap.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Embarrassingly, I have no idea how to change a tire.

    At least you know about the “righty tighty lefty loosey” part.

    I’m glad you’re safe.

  2. What a fabulous, anti-adultist story. It’s all in our perceptions, isn’t it? Well done.

  3. What a wonderful story about not judging a book by its cover. A lesson for all of us. Thanks for sharing.

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