Teenagers 101

This is it! One last week! I can do it! Today my kids are reviewing for their final on Monday and I’m continuing this reflective mood I’ve had for weeks now. These kids are going to leave my classroom and weirdly it makes me feel like they’re so vulnerable and unprotected WITHOUT ME! Which is ridiculous, obviously. I see them 45 minutes/5 days a week. Still, that’s a lot. So as I’m sending them out there to you, world, there’s some things I want you to know.

I know I come off like I want to murder my students. And you know, sometimes I kind of do. But in reality I LOVE teenagers. So it really hurts my feeling when I tell people I teach middle school and they say things like “Teenagers are the WORST.” “Ugh I bet you hate your job.” “Aren’t you scared of them? I’m scared of them!” I definitely get where they’re coming from. But its also such a narrow-minded, stereotypical approach.

I have loved teens pretty much always. I wanted to be one. I loved being one. And now that I’m not one (no I don’t want to be one again, I’m not INSANE), I work with them. I get put into YW within approximately 30 seconds of being in a new ward. The bishop at the last ward said to me that it was hard to find people who were willing and not intimidated to work with teens. Cue scary teen comments. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we are still fairly new in our ward and wondering if they’ll put us in with the youth again. (PLOT TWIST: I’d actually be ok in Primary this time around. YW is a lot of work!)

In school, in YW and with my teenage siblings I have learned a lot. These golden nuggets of observation I’ve collected over the years have helped me love teens and do my jobs/callings better.

Secret Teenager Facts

  • They cling to confidence – if you are a confident person they are drawn to that, since all teens are lacking. Therefore, if you want a teen to like you – just act confident, ESPECIALLY about your flaws. They will love you forever.
  • They actually LIKE rules. They might act like they hate them. But with everything in their life rapidly changing they want earth under their feet – rules are the earth.
  • What works for one teen probably won’t work for the one sitting next to him. Or even him in 2 weeks. Working with teens is a constant shifting landscape (hence the need addressed above). I use my education, best judgment and especially the Spirit to try to evaluate kids each day before any serious solo interactions because what they need can be so different from what you usually give. I cringe when I see parents raising all of their children exactly the same way. Case by case. Day by day.
  • Contrary to popular belief, even contrary to their words and actions, they really do want to talk. Especially if they’re shy, emo or seem so outgoing they don’t need the extra interaction. Every teen wants to talk to adults and feel heard. PLEASE TALK TO THEM. I know it’s awkward at times (all the time). Do it anyway.
  • They simply CAN’T see the big picture. Like, psychologically. Their brains literally strain to think a few months or a year ahead. They don’t know their decisions will affect them. If you point it out, they’ll get it. But they rarely independently think more than a few steps ahead. Call pregnant teens “dumb” all you want (they are), but it’s the parent’s fault at the end of the day. I stand by that, as offensive as it can be.
  • They love it when you like something they also like. But only if it appears genuine. They also weirdly love it when you disagree with them. But only in a civil way. I think they just like that they have their own opinions. When you agree or disagree, you’re implicitly validating and accepting that they are allowed to have their own preferences. Try it. Tell a teen you also like that band and have they heard this song? Say you don’t love that movie because of that one weird thing though. You’ll be surprised how mature and reasonable they sound in their response.
  • They NEED to see vulnerability. When I say “Oh that was stupid Mrs. Holdaway” aloud they all soften up a bit because they relate. Admit your mistakes. Show them that being an adult is kind of just like being a teen. You don’t automatically make all the right decisions and become perfect when you turn 21. Do them the favor of removing that scary hoop they fear they’ll need to jump through.
  • Rewards will always work better than punishments. Works with dogs, babies, teenagers and adults. Give them an extra 5 minutes on curfew because they were on time all last weekend. Rather than screaming at them for making a huge mess in the car they borrowed from you – talk calmly about the need to respect other’s things and keep things clean, then give them the opportunity to FIX it. When they do, reward them!
  • Lead them into spiritual experiences. Forcing your teen to go to church and YW may seem like your parent duty, and I guess it is. But what if you take them somewhere where the Spirit is irrefutable and just shut your mouth to let the Spirit do the talking? Conference, the temple grounds, a hike with an amazing view, even a museum or memorial. If they don’t feel it on their own, no amount of adult voices is going to change that.

Bottom line: Being a teen is hard. Have some sympathy for them, will ya? Talk to them so they don’t get pregnant, do drugs or bring a gun to school. I really believe strong parental relationships can prevent all kinds of evil in this world.

And pray for me. One week doesn’t sound like a lot. But when we’re on constant alert for silly string and marijuana it kind of is. Lord beer me strength.

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2 thoughts on “Teenagers 101”

  • 4 years ago

    I love these and totally agree! Preteens and Teens are a hard age to figure out because they can’t even figure themselves out. But, they are genuinely better than most people give them credit for. Set the bar high and they will almost always strive to reach it.

  • I really do have tons of respect for you awesome teachers who do secondary ed! Love these guidelines, even for my 11-year-olds!

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