Teens have a special place in my heart. They are emerging adults but still have some child-like qualities and a zest for life that is untainted by the demands and experience of a full adult life. In find this dichotomy comical and amusing. It reminds me to let go and have fun. As a teacher, I learned from them as much as they learned from me.
What I have really learned about teens is that they just want to be supported, understood, and respected. You do NOT get a teen to do what you want by demanding, threatening, and treating them like a child. (heck, even young children rebel against bossiness) That authoritarian stance will mostly backfire. It might work for some or for a little while but it just might create a tension that will get in the way when there are bigger issues to resolve.
I have noticed in my child’s high school, what seems like an increase in the carrot-stick approach to behavior management. For instance, they are cracking down on student tardiness. The school decided to give detention for students’ repeated lateness but what they fail to consider are the reasons for the lateness because most are driven by parents. Then I saw a friend post a pile of tardy slips her daughter had accumulated and thought to myself “the detention thing sure doesn’t seem to be deterring this tardiness behavior”. I am sure this solution is just a result of not knowing what else to do and relying on past experiences instead of trying new progressive approaches.
What could be done?
In my experience teaching and coaching, engaging the students in a discussion of WHY they are late and HOW they can overcome the obstacles getting in their way works much better. If it’s the parent’s fault, why punish the child? This teaches student that these policies are unfair and we lose their respect. Instead talk to the parent or help child do that. If it is the child, we can help them find strategies that they can work with; help motivate them to WANT to change. Let them own the process and choices but with adult guidance and support. Let them own their successes and learn from their mistakes. I wonder how often a student is asked “What’s going on?”, “How can I help?”. I know from personal experience not as often as it should.
Power struggles between adults and teens degrade trust which is needed to accomplish great things together. If they are sent to detention…then maybe detention could be a forum for positive discussion with supportive and caring adults who can help teens figure out how to change their behaviors, and perspectives. Create the positive relationship. Honor their ideas. Instead of punishment, it could be a form of coaching.
Now more than ever, we need to create that positive relationship and a culture of teamwork. Teens just want to feel respected, trusted, and cared for. If we want them to change, we must change. How do we do this? Non-violent communication is one way. This doesn’t just mean don’t hit/hurt. It means to observe, not judge. Ask, not tell. Work with your teen, not against them. Help them develop and own their behavior change with your support. Let them know you care. Caring and empathy go a long way.
For example, a student is not doing work. Instead of detention and ignoring them as bad or uncooperative. Talk to them…”I notice X, and I was concerned about Y. What’s going on? “. “How can I help?” and “What do you need from me?” get a lot closer to success then “just do it”, or thinking “that’s not my problem, it’s yours”. I have seen this work and I have helped turn student’s disengagement into success through this approach.
This goes for parenting…but it is a but harder and the relationship is MUCH more complex. But the essence is the same. Approach teens with love and respect. They are just kids who still need you while they break free and find their way into adulthood. I have done it the “my way or the highway” authoritarian approach and it only works for so long and/or it degrades the relationship and potentially the child’s self-esteem. When I changed my approach with my own children, I noticed a huge shift in them and in our relationship. No parenting relationship is perfect but my kids seem much happier with the new me.
So judge less, listen more, curiously inquire.
This is why I am coaching teens. They need more adults who are willing to help them find their way in a positive and supportive environment. It takes a village, right?
Want to read more about teens and communication?
Growth mindset? “Growth Mindset; the psychology of success”
Non-violent communication? Nonviolent Communication website