Sunday, July 04, 2004

On Raising Adolescents, and Keeping Your Sanity

I received a lovely letter this weekend, via e-mail, from a woman who has accepted the daunting job of parenting a teenager as she struggles on her own to provide a home for her nephew.

Throughout the years I have been asked many times for advice on raising adolescents, but normally these questions occur during the course of face to face conferences. This letter gave me the opportunity to put my answers into writing. I am going to include some of my response in today's post, since it reflects a bit of my philosophy when it comes to dealing with teens.

I applaud your dedication as you guide your nephew into adulthood, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

I must admit to having quite a bit of experience dealing with teenagers. I calculate that in more than two decades of teaching high school, I have had the pleasure of working with more than four thousand students. After all these years, I'm still amazed that I am regarded as having a semblance of sanity in circles that do not include members of my own family. My own children (ages 24, 15, and 12) will often refer to me as "that crazy lady". However, I do take into consideration that their point of reference is up-close and personal, since it is usually their actions that motivate my mania.

I will share with you several guidelines that I use in my daily interactions with students. I consider them to be essential to maintaining a good relationship with any young person.

First and foremost; try to remember yourself at that age.
What were you like? What did you do for fun? What made you laugh? What were the adults in your life like? Who did you want to be like when you grew up? Try to emulate your own positive role models. Also try to recall the things that made you angry; people who were ignorant, adults who were unfair, or annoying, or petty, or mean. If you recognize any of those behaviors in yourself, make the adjustment...Get rid of them. A person who has forgotten his childhood will find it impossible to connect with children.

Next, always remember the BIG picture. Things like hair, and clothes, and music aren't nearly as important as respect, good friends, a kind attitude, developing a love of learning, and a strong work ethic.

Know that grades do not always reflect learning. In fact real learning is RARELY assessed on a grading scale. Grades are usually only an indication of how many points were earned using an arbitrary method of evaluation.

Finally, as human beings, we've developed something called a sense of humor. It is a wondrous coping mechanism. It will help us through circumstances that are distasteful or embarrassing, disturbing or frustrating. Use it often. Find the fun in situations, or at least observe the funny. Life is short, and we were meant to enjoy it.

The rest of my response was of a more personal nature, and won't be included here.

Parenting is infinitely more difficult than teaching.
Throughout my career I have encountered kids who prompted a prayer of gratitude that I only had to put up with them for 40 minutes a day, and would never have to deal with them again upon completion of the term.

As parents we will have these relationships forever.


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