Why teachers and parents must learn to treat adolescents differently

Why teachers and parents must learn to treat adolescents differently.

Psychologists describe adolescence as the toddler stage of adulthood. Dealing with adolescents can be such a daunting experience not only to parents but also to teachers who handle them in school. It is for such reasons that we get to experience a lot of unrests and misbehaviors among secondary going students compared to primary going ones. At age thirteen when most children join secondary school, a lot begins to happen in their lives and that is why parents and teachers must begin to handle them differently. Continuing to treat them like children in most cases never work and when they feel pushed to the walls they will always retaliate as a way of self-defense. No wonder parents and teachers alike may find themselves in situations where they feel helpless and unable to deal with certain teenagers.

To perfectly understand how best to treat adolescents, then it is important to first understand who they are and how they look at life from their own perspective. World Health Organisation defines the adolescent’s age range to be between 10 and 19 but most begin to show noticeable changes at around age 13 especially the girls. During adolescence, three different levels of growth are noticed as demonstrated below:

Level 1: Physical development - Here, the body and the brain grow. The body begins to develop and mirror that of adults. The brain also begins to develop from the back to the front. At this stage, the brain begins to increase in its complexity making it possible for adolescents to make informed choices and decisions. For this reason, adolescents will become defensive if they are treated as children. Due to developing brains, adolescence may also portray impulse actions such as unnecessary arguments, outbursts, dramatic behaviors among others especially when they are cornered. The impulse actions decrease as the age increases.

Level 2: Psychological development - Erikson describes adolescents in an interesting way. In his view, adolescents are at a stage described as “identity versus role confusion” It is at this level that adolescents begin to push themselves away from adults and create a name for themselves. They also begin to fully experiment with things that adults may consider as “taboo” such as sex and drugs. They will also begin to identify themselves with certain personalities and lifestyles. If not handled well, adolescents may end up in total confusion and loss of direction.

Level 3: Cognitive development - Piaget categorizes adolescents with adults under the same stage of development as human beings. In his view, adolescents are just adults who are younger. He argues that adolescents just like adults are able to think abstractly and do not require concrete materials to construct their thoughts and make decisions. Trying to treat them as children without asking for their thoughts does not simply work.

What then must teachers and parents do when dealing with adolescents? There is no one size fit all strategy when dealing with adolescents. A lot of things come to play. Patience, tolerance, wisdom, and growth mindset must be exercised by both parents and teachers lest they find themselves completely outmanaged by adolescents. The single silver bullet when it comes to dealing with adolescents is none other than effective communication. Effective communication here entails talking to them rather than at them and listening attentively when they speak.

To effectively communicate with adolescents, teachers and adults must be aware of the fact that adolescents are not babies. They can make their own decisions and choosing to reach out to you, does not mean you should decide for them. All they are asking for by reaching out to you is to help them implement the choices that they have made for themselves. To avoid conflict of interest, it is therefore imperative for parents and teachers to ensure the following things are observed when communicating with them:

Listen more and talk less when handling adolescents. Always remember that adolescents in their minds think that their actions are always better than those of adults. They may be tempted to label adults as old and consider their thoughts backward and outdated. It is therefore important for teachers and parents to learn the skills of listening when dealing with them. When they feel cornered and their voices suppressed by adults, adolescents will always make impulse thoughts and decisions most of which never sit well with adults. It is for such reasons that they may choose to go on a rampage and destroy property and life when not listened to by adults.

Communicate frequently, not only when there's a problem. Teachers and parents have a habit of only reaching out to adolescents when things begin to go in an unexpected way. This in most cases does not show a lot of trust to adolescents. In their view, choosing to reach out to them only when they have a problem makes you appear as a non-caring individual who is not out to help them solve their problems, but instead to make them abandon their missions. For this reason, the adolescents will choose to do their things secretly for fear that you may be a hindrance in their plans.

Be consistent and fulfill all the promises made. It is easier to promise a child of something and fail to deliver and all will be okay. The same does not work with adolescents. When it comes to handling adolescents instead, teachers and parents must learn to negotiate in order to get things done. If you promise to promise them a trip after winning a competition, please fulfill. Failure to fulfill your promises portrays you as a liar and untrustworthy to them. Always remember that first impressions last forever. To be on the safer side when dealing with adolescents is under-promise but over-deliver. That way, adolescents will have more trust and faith in you and can abandon negative plans when you ask them to do so because they are always looking at you as someone who cares and that their needs will be met if you are at the helm. The vice versa is true for those who promise but fail to fulfill.

Create an atmosphere of friendship. Nothing excites adolescents like teachers and parents who are friendly. When adolescents are safe around you, then they can tell you anything that is happening to them. It is therefore important for teachers and parents to be intentional from the start when it comes to creating a relationship with adolescents. Learn to greet them when you meet them along the way. Learn to care when they look disturbed. Check on their progress regularly and always remain warm to them even when you are going through a difficult time.

Do not focus more on giving advice to adolescents. Nothing pushes adolescents away like teachers and parents who only focus on advising them. Adolescents consider themselves as adults with the capabilities to think and make their own decisions. What they need is adults to help them evaluate their thoughts and not to decide for them. If you must give advice as an adult to adolescents, then do it with a lot of wisdom and care to avoid being labeled as a dictator. Learn to ask open-ended questions to fully understand what the adolescents have in mind and seek clarification where you do not understand. Only give advice when they ask you to do so. And if you must give advice, always do it in a manner that is respectful and that which does not portray you as a “know it all”.

Body language. When speaking to adolescents, what you say must conform to your actions and body language. What your body says is as important as what your mouth says, however, how sweet and important it may be. Teachers and parents, therefore, need to create time when dealing with adolescents. Any attempts to appear disengaged when handling them puts them off thereby decreasing the levels of trust towards you. Always remember that the words only express 7% of what you say and the body language and tone are covered in the remaining 93%.

Teachers and parents must therefore stop treating adolescents as children. To have cordial relationships with adolescents, it is therefore important to treat them differently from the children. They must be treated as young adults. You must learn to include their voices in decisions that affect them. In doing so, cases of indiscipline will definitely go down in schools and at home because adolescents will begin to look at themselves as stakeholders on matters that affect them and not mere spectators.

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