An Educator's Guide to Teenage Social LifeKelly Wickham
I have something to say about teenage social life: it just plain sucks. There’s nothing more difficult and hard to navigate when you come out of the single digit years on this earth. You remember what it’s like, don’t you? Just when you’re starting to feel confident and comfortable with how you manage things you get enormous feet that don’t match your body, a face full of zits and blemishes, and you start to secrete bodily smells that you didn’t know you possessed. Summed up, it’s pretty horrible. The good news is that you eventually turn into an adult (not without the occasional mishap of a huge zit, of course), and the bad news is that, for parents, you have children that turn into teenagers. Somehow, as a mom, I’ve gone through puberty twice: once on my own and again when my children experienced it. You can immediately remember what it feels like to be pubescent. That is fairly horrible, too.
I am often asked, in my role as a public school administrator, to help guide students and their families through these tricky waters. When I do, though, I am cognizant of how frustrating it can be on the part of the student and their parents. After several years of doing this I need to remind myself that sometimes parents don’t remember that administrators are there to help. Because, sometimes I am not asked, but parents and students let me know this is hard for them by the frustrations I hear from them in different ways. In fact, I will take it one step further and admit that sometimes I don’t even know a child is struggling because they’re not being difficult or vocal about their needs so I (falsely) assume that everything is A-okay. That is, until their parents step in and come to me with worries:
My kid is getting lost at school and is directionless.
My son hates school and has no friends.
My daughter comes home in tears every night.
These are some of the phrases I hear on a fairly regular basis. That’s when I know it’s time to step in and do some serious interventions, but it’s smarter to be on the front end of this than the reactionary end of fixing a problem after it pops up at school. Here is a short guide to what I’ve learned about being an educator and a parent of teens and how to find your way out of the minefield of surviving their social lives.
Teenagers have one job and one job only: to keep information about school from parents 1 of 5Work extra hard at signing up for PTO, getting classroom updates, and subscribing to teachers' webpages and newsletters. They want to keep you out of their lives and, yet, it's more crucial that you know information now than ever before. I am giving you permission to be ALL UP IN THEIR BUSINESS. (In case you needed that.) Photo credit to paqman
Teenagers want new friends 2 of 5Invite their new friends over, get to know their parents, and attend school related events in order to know who they're hanging around every day. When you go to a football game, sit with the parents of who your child is friends with and get to know them. You will learn how they parent and what their level of permissiveness is, and you can make informed decisions when your child is a guest in their home. More than once I have been talking to a parent who assumes that their child has no friends, and I tell them who they're hanging around with during the day at school and the parents are shocked. This is common and reminds me that kids act differently at school than they do at home. Photo credit to Varsity Life
Children don’t know how to ask for help 3 of 5A lot of times students at school act out in ways other than what you might expect. It's imperative that parents monitor these changes in their child and ask if teachers are noticing the same things. For example, if a student with good grades suddenly stops caring about turning in homework or if they are having meltdowns at home that are in opposition of what we see at school, that's a red flag. Get to the bottom of their needs and, yes, keep on nagging and pressing forward to ask those crucial questions. Photo credit to The Frankfurt School
Find out who is with students during unstructured time 4 of 5If you have a child in junior high/middle school, chances are that they still have some form of "recess" where they get out for fresh air and possibly play double dutch or soccer. In my school, this is all done by the three administrators we have as well as our school social worker. It's a great time for us to become Margaret Mead researchers and see students in their natural habitat. Cliques move in and out of form and you will also get a sense of the loners who seem to be around other students during other times but who choose to be alone with unstructured time. The behaviors I see during recess are invaluable to learning about my students. Ask those supervisors for their viewpoints and professional opinions if you notice a change in your son or daughter. Photo credit to Kevin Collins
Reach out to school personnel 5 of 5This is especially helpful if your child has an IEP, a 504 Plan, or has mental health issues that affect their education. Teachers appreciate when you contact them about your child's needs, and if you find that isn't helpful you are within your parental responsibilities to take it a step further and contact administrators. Get to know the school social workers, psychologists, and student support leaders. If you find that your child often misses out on the fun things and celebrations at school, find out why. Are they spending too much time in the discipline office? The bottom line is that you know your child better than we do. Help us by writing a yearly letter about what motivates your child and what their strengths and weaknesses are to avert problems. Photo credit to vox_efx
If the first day of school has already passed, don’t fret. You can still ask for help and support for your child. Teenagers are a different beast altogether, and I happen to love working with them. They’re complex and contradictory and sometimes make absolutely no sense at all. We’re really all in this together so reach out to educators and get their perspectives, too. Teachers have a unique view of the things that go on in school and should be receptive since we all want students to be their best. Hopefully, this guide will help you survive the teen years. Because it’s really frowned upon to eat your young.
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