I spent most of last week with new 8th graders. I was with them at meals, chaperoned a cabin at night, and supervised them at work and play. Why yes, I am a saint. Ha! Just kidding. I enjoyed most of it. They are fascinating little creatures, these adolescents and the opportunity for extended fieldwork was valuable. Yes, dear reader, those are the kinds of sacrifices I am willing to make to bring you my weekly commentary on the feeding and care of middle school kids.
I have a few thoughts in random order. I'll probably expand on most of these in future posts.
Also, these apply specifically to 8th graders, but I think they are generally applicable to most adolescents.
1. You have to be specific with adolescents. Adults talk about concepts like "kindness" and "leadership" and "responsibility" and kids nod and we think we've connected. A very few kids will hear that and translate those concepts into specifics. Most, however, won't. I've learned, and am re-learning, how important it is to give concrete details and examples. "Kindness means more than just not being actively unkind. It means when you see someone sitting alone, you invite them to join you. It means that when you see someone who needs help you help them. If someone is sad, you ask them what's wrong and offer to help." Etc. Generalities that make sense to adults often don't really translate well to kids. I am convinced that this is a huge source of adult/adolescent misunderstanding.
2. When properly taught and motivated, adolescents are capable of great kindness, empathy, and leadership. However, these traits are not natural to them. They have to be taught, modelled, explained, and reinforced. They can follow your lead beautifully, but will not do this on their own. It is not the natural order of things, the default setting. It takes time and effort to bring about this kind of behavior. Like any other kind of intertia, unkindness can only be overcome through sustained energy. But if you are willing to make the investment, you can see some lovely results.
3. No matter what their attitude conveys, I think most kids crave adult approval. Being an adult whom they respect enough to value the approval is the work of a lifetime, and a task in which we should all be engaged.
4. Many, if not most, social problems are self-inflicted, or at least self-complicated and enhanced. This is hard to admit sometimes, but it's good news because it means there is a fix!
5. Most adolescents really want to do the right thing but find it incredibly hard given the hormonal changes, social pressures, and other crazy things going on in their lives.
6. Most parents, even very involved ones, have very little idea about what happens at school, which is the majority or at least plurality of their children's lives. I don't mean grades, I mean about the lived experience of their child. It's not their fault--adolescents don't talk much. But there is a side of these kids that really emerges when they are with others in their pack. This is not good or bad--just something I've observed, but it has implications.
7. I am convinced that even very involved parents do not fully appreciate the things that their children know about, hear about, think about, and even do because of the culture to which they are exposed. Good kids from good families routinely hear music and see movies/TV shows that mention and advocate actions and values that the families would reject forcefully if the same actions or values were proposed to them without the context provided by popular culture.
Have a good week! Oh--by the way, I got word that the publisher is running a special promotion for my book, The Kindling. Next week, it will be available to download for the Kindle for the astonishingly low price of .99 cents!
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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