Someone — OK, someone on Facebook — recently asked what teenagers today need most. It started me thinking about what I needed as a teen and preteen, and was lucky enough to have: adults who listened without judging.

I had a few teachers I regarded as friends. Not in the buddy-buddy sense, but people I liked and respected and who seemed to like and respect me. And when I was a tween and early teen there was an older woman who lived across the street who became my earliest adult friend who was not a relative.

Mrs. Crennan was widowed and lived with a blue parakeet and a dachshund named Hans. She seemed quite old to me at 11 and 12, but could have been in her 60s or early 70s. My memories from that period of my life are a little hazy, but I think she had some kind of accident that meant she was on crutches for a while and that was how I came to be her dog walker. I would collect Hans and take him for a walk around the neighborhood on his leash. I don’t think I particularly liked or disliked the little sausage dog, but I do remember liking the $1 or $2 I got paid for taking him out.

Even better than that was being invited into Mrs. Crennan’s house when I brought Hans back. She would give me lemonade and then we’d sit in her small living room and talk. She asked me about my life, how I got along with my two younger brothers and told me stories from her life with her husband and even from her own childhood.

She listened attentively while I spoke, never interrupted and asked questions that showed she was interested in me. As the oldest of three children, one of whom was still a toddler, I didn’t get a lot of that from my parents. And besides, with Mrs. Crennan it was different. I had been taught to show respect to all adults, but she was my friend, and with her I felt I could be myself without fear of judgment.

The way that she talked to me, and especially the way she listened, gave me an inestimable gift: seeing myself as interesting, worthy of respect and able to carry on a conversation an adult would enjoy. Her stories were often humorous, and her happy laughter would light up her eyes.

After that, I would visit Mrs. Crennan even when I wasn’t walking Hans. It was a balm to sit in her fussy little old lady house and listen to her remember when she was young. And to feel that she valued my company as much as I valued hers.

Mrs. Crennan never tried to teach me anything, never offered any do’s or don’ts and such morals as her stories carried were oblique enough not to hurt the pride of a shy and insecure young lady. I think I remember that she had a keen sense of humor. One thing I am sure of: She listened, and I loved her for it.

Today’s youngsters are no different. They may not have been taught the deference to adults that I was, they may be flip and glib and blasé. But they still need people to help them figure out who they are and how to be in the world, not by giving advice, but by listening and reflecting back who they are. They need the most precious thing we adults have to give: our undivided attention.

Republican Journal editor Sarah Reynolds is a longtime employee of Courier Publications.

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