Parenting is hard. Whether your kid is 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years, or honestly just choose any year between 12 and 17, parenting is hard. The good thing about doing hard work is that you are destined to make mistakes along the way therefore you always will find opportunities to improve!
I think I became a better educator as I experienced parenting an adolescent for myself. I think educators who have experienced parenting challenges are generally less judgmental and more forgiving of parents. I think there is much for teachers to learn from considering the challenges of parenting and, likewise, there is much for parents to learn from the insights that teachers are able to share. Teachers hold incredibly important and valuable observations that are important for parents to digest. The partnership between teacher and parent is critical to nurture.
We recently held a parent meeting for Grade 9 parents on a Wednesday evening in a private home not far from school. It was part social and part “parenting workshop”. It was an opportunity to share information and generate dialogue about the challenges of parenting.
Myself and one of our counselors presented “The 5 B’s of Adolescence”. I’ve used this presentation over the years. The presentation is one that several counselor colleagues of my past put together. I am not the author! But, I absolutely enjoy presenting it to parents as it opens up great territory to explore around the complexities of adolescence. Trying to understand those complexities and the resulting behaviors – rationale and irrational – is the challenge for parents and teachers. It makes our work interesting to say the least.
The The 5 B’s of Adolescence are:
Bodies – Their bodies are changing overnight!
Belonging – There are huge needs for belonging to groups, social structures are important and challenging. Friendship groups shift. Many decisions are made based upon their strong needs for belonging.
Becoming – They are becoming more independent thinkers, they are becoming a young adult. They are playing around with who they are becoming. They often try out new personas, new styles of dress, etc.
Brains – The brain activity is enormous. In general, the frontal lobe is not well developed and therefore impulsive behaviors are not as well regulated. This is a challenge.
Breaking Away – They are seeking independence!
However brilliant the High School Principal and the counselor may have been in presenting, the most important part of the evening were the student messages to their parents. Earlier in the day, our counselor spent time with Grade 9 kids and asked the students to write responses to the following prompts:
- Parents, here is what I would like you to know about 9th grade so far:
- To be a better parent to me as a 9th grader, you need to do more ____ and less _____
- The number one thing you don’t seem to get about me these days is:
- My biggest worry about school is:
- My biggest stressor at home is:
- I really appreciate it when you:
The responses from students were absolutely astounding. They were honest, direct, insightful, and meaningful. We read a series of these responses to the parents. It was brilliant. Here is a sampling of what Grade 9 students said to their parents:
You can do more “Help me, talk to me about school, let me be” and less “checking up on me”
You can do more “trust me and understand I want more freedom” and less “stop trying to force me into doing things and trying to find out everything about school”
You can do less “talking, because you seem to not listen but to always compare me”
You can do less “comparing me to my friends and other people”
You can do more “trust me, understand me” and less “assuming you know me, comparing us to when you were a kid, and blaming me for things I don’t do”
The number one thing you don’t seem to get about me these days is
“you never seem to get me”
“Even though I seem fine about my homework, I still need you to push me”
“That you have to let me be more independent”
“that I focus alot more while listening to music and that when I use my tablet alot I sometimes do homework”
“I am my own person, stop comparing me to others”
“I’m stressed and worried”
“I’m a man now”
“I’m 15, not 12”
“I need more freedom”
“that I am growing and I am different from my siblings and you should understand that”
“I try hard at school”
“I am very independent and do a lot of things by myself, I’m a big boy now”
“That school is not the most important thing in my life”
I really appreciate it when you:
“When you leave me alone and when you give me reasonable advice”
“Hug me and tell me it’s going to be alright”
“Shout a little less at me and allow me to play video games a little longer and help me with my homework”
“Just be there with a smile, and food too”
“Say it’s okay when I get a bad grade”
“Believe in me and the decisions I’m making”
“Encourage and support me”
“Leave me alone”
“Believe in me and know that I can do great things”
“Help me with my work sometimes and when you pay attention to me”
“ask me about my day”
“try to help me and understand that I am trying my best”
So many of the comments the kids made can be considered through the lens of the 5 B’s. Grade 9 students often seem like lost souls. They live “teenage angst”. Grade 9 kids are in the clutches of adolescence and their responses reflect their angst. They are experiencing significant levels of stress over social issues, academic challenges, family dynamics, and within their own private inner world of “self talk”. They are busy “becoming” while wanting to “break away”. Their brains are on fire and their emotions are locked into a desire to “belong”. Their bodies are changing all the time. 14 and 15 year olds are at a unique and challenging point in their lives.
Adults in the lives of 14 and 15 year olds must acknowledge and accept these challenges. It’s a hard time.
Engaging them in meaningful and relevant work is essential. They can be very insightful about their own learning and what is important to them at this point in their lives. They are drawn to films, stories, and characters who mirror their teenage angst. There is much young adult fiction that captures this.
I do believe early teens are ready to learn but we must be so careful and thoughtful about material and approaches. 9th graders are at a vulnerable time. They can be lured in or they can withdraw. I remember my son’s HS English teacher warning the parents during an August open house that we should be prepared for the disappearance of our son, as we knew him, in Grade 9 but he’ll return 12 months later. A sobering statement, but there was truth to it. The good news for me was that caring adults were alongside him every day at his school and, without a doubt, this is the absolute key.
It’s a challenge for us all.