If you’re butting heads with someone in early adolescence, here’s a developmental reminder: teenagers act their age. There are a few things you should keep in mind. Through no fault of their own, most people aged 12 to 15 simply cannot be expected to manage the following teenage behaviors:
Typical Teenage Behavior: Teenagers Can’t…
- Focus on anything at all when an insect, spider or puppy is nearby.
- Sit in a chair 100% of the time without falling out of it (this mostly applies to boys, but it is true. Mark my words: your boys will fall out of their chairs).
- Explain why completed homework has not been turned into the teacher (they truly do not know).
- Follow instructions the first time they are given (I believe the magic number is five times. Five repetitions of instructions might produce results).
- Understand their own bursts of anger, tears, or apathy.
- Control their volume (this mostly applies to girls, but it is true. Whether they are laughing, screaming or yelling, few things on the planet are louder than freshmen girls).
- Regain composure within two hours of anyone farting.
- Tell the truth about their feelings (they don’t understand them and they can’t explain them and they feel victimized by them).
- View themselves with candor and love (they see themselves through the eyes of their peers, the media, and who-knows-what other influences. It’s very confusing).
- Organize anything: their rooms, backpacks, even the sentences forming as they speak.
Dealing With Teenagers
I know all this because teaching a class of freshmen can feel like being trapped with a herd of knife-bearing three-year-olds. A vocabulary lesson can erupt into chaos if the teacher relaxes for even a moment. The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, as Steinbeck reminds us in that perennial freshman-English favorite. Teachers make lesson plans and students thwart them.
Inventing creative, surprising, specific ways to torture us is well within typical teenager behavior. It is impossible to prepare; there is no rule book; spending time with teenagers is confusing, frustrating, humbling, and exhausting.
Yet so many of us who work with teenagers wouldn’t change that for the world. Teenagers keep us in the moment. They are a constant invitation to remain flexible, keep learning, and see the world through new eyes. Meeting them where they are requires vigilance and super-human tenacity, but we know it’s worth it. When we break through a sullen stare and connect with a teenager, when we get a glimpse of the funny, confident, fascinating grown-up lurking behind the angst (almost but not quite ready to see the light of day) we can see it’s worth it.
Staying on the sunny side of the street is easier said than done, but it’s worth it every single time.