This week, Donegal mum and teacher Maria Rushe explains why we need to give teenagers some credit.
HOW do you work with teenagers?”
I get asked this quite a bit.
Very easily actually.
Because ‘teenagers’ are wicked.
And let me tell you, since schools reopened, they’ve proven themselves one-million-fold…and then some.
I’m not sure I even have the words to do them justice if I’m honest. Not only are their whole worlds changed, they now sit up to 7 hours a day in one seat, behind a mask.
Going back to school was tough for them. Everything has changed. No more moving every 40 minutes. No more whispered conversations at lunchtime… social distancing doesn’t allow for whispers. It doesn’t allow for dance classes, or usual training sessions, or hobbies or fun.
It doesn’t allow for much really, especially if you’re a teenager.
And yet, the teenagers I know are getting on with things. They’re wearing their masks. They’re wiping their tables. They’re following all the rules.
In the current situation, they’re brilliant.
In every situation, they’re brilliant. And yet they rarely get the credit they deserve.
They have SO much to offer society and they have so much brilliance in them, if we’d only stop sometimes to listen.
Teenagers are in limbo; stuck in the chaotic chasm between childhood and adulthood; trying not to be children, trying desperately to be adults, and landing somewhere in the middle.
They are brilliant. They are intelligent. They are fun and they are inspiring. They are kind and empathetic and sensitive and brave.
Surely there are moods and hormones and stomps and grumps and huffs and eye rolls and attitude; but guess what?
They were huffy and stubborn as toddlers and children too.
And as adults, we’re pretty partial to the odd huff or eyeroll or attitude too, are we not?
Being a teenager is hard. And I wouldn’t return to that period of my life for all the tea in China. (Well, maybe for an hour to give myself some advice.)
We expect them to act grown up but then criticise them if they do anything “adulty”
We expect them to stop acting like children and yet, can treat them like children in the next breath.
We often assume that they are moody and grumpy just because of their age, rather than asking them what is actually bothering them.
We assume that they are all addicted to computer games and incapable of doing anything for themselves, when actually, so many of them are creative and capable.
We brand them impossible and useless and tut at their inability to make decisions or solve problems.
And in so many cases, the things that we complain that they can not or will not do for them, are because we didn’t show them how to do it, or trust that they could.
Now listen, I know that some parents get it incredibly difficult with their little Sweetums-turned-Satan, and as a teacher believe me, I have been on the receiving end of some teenage angst and attitude in my time.
But I have also learned that often, the behaviour that is causing the adults to eye roll and stomp feet, is not a result of ‘bad’ kids, but often a result of frustration.
New emotions, new feelings, new situations, new relationships, new friends, new worries, new realisations, new expectations, new disappointments… everything is new.
The level of overwhelm on a daily basis is unreal for many.
Add our friend Covid to the mix and you have a whole big explosive pile of torture.
And don’t even start me on the kids who are dealing with all sorts of chaos at home before they even get to school in the morning.
Why the hell would a young person who has spent the night listening to rows, or who hasn’t eaten properly in 2 days, give a continental shite about right angles, or Shakespeare’s soliloquies, or that you are “so disappointed“ in them for not having homework done again or for being late.
Why would the student who is terrified of being Covid home to Granny, or who’s all too aware of the current stresses faced by their parents whose business is closed, give a hoot about theorems or learning definitions?
Some teenagers are going through things that most of us, as adults, wouldn’t have a clue how to start dealing with.
Sometimes we need to cut them some slack.
Sometimes we need to ask how they are.
Sometimes we need to ignore the attitude and continue to be pleasant and nice to them.
Sometimes we need to NOT respond how they expect us to when they kick off.
Sometimes, we need to trust them.
For many young adults, all they want is trust. To feel trusted and to be given some responsibility to try, and to prove themselves. They need to know that failing at something is not as important as having TRIED it in the first place.
And again, guess what?
The magical 18th birthday does NOT with it bring the key to all things adulty. I’m a long-time, “experienced” adult and I’m still experiencing all of the NEW things I listed above. And sometimes I feel like a teenager who needs an adult to show me how to fix or deal with things.
Life doesn’t change. We get on with adulting and being adulty and we continue to deal with new problems and fears and worries and people.
Adults just don’t get criticised so much when they make mistakes or get overwhelmed.
We need to give teenagers some credit.
They are wonderful.
They are brilliant.
They are kind and they are caring.
And most of them are playing a bloody BLINDER throughout the current pandemic. They’re doing their best.
If you trust them, or let them use their own initiative, it’s incredible what they can do.
If you let them express their emotions, they might just learn to understand them.
If you tell them things are going to be OK, they might just believe you.
And if you tell them you believe in them, they might just start to believe in themselves.
Because if they think we don’t like them or believe in them, how can we expect them to like themselves?
And while sometimes, we want to give them the proverbial kick up the *&^%, they’d probably do a whole lot better, if we gave them a smile or a hug.
Because sometimes a hug is all we need. Teenagers and adults alike.
So back to the question “How do I work with teenagers?”
Quite happily thank you. And with a proud and grateful smile on my face, even though they can’t see it behind my mask.