The Choppy Water of Adolescence

The Choppy Water of Adolescence
Scott Thompson

Whether an 8th grader anticipating the transition to high school or a 5th grader with their first middle school report card on the horizon, navigating the "choppy waters of adolescence" can be a daunting, complex, and stressful endeavor for both the adolescent and the adults in their lives.

So how do we adults find the balance between being a drone or a snowplow parent and the uncomfortableness/anxiety of a free-range parent? This is a time where it is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to test the waters of independence and dip their toe into the pool of more mature responsibilities.

Noted educator, author, and psychologist Dr. Joann Deak refers to teachers and parents as "neuro-sculptors." A fitting term that highlights our impact and affirms the high value we place on our emotional connection with our kids.

At Woodland School we ask our students to take charge of their own learning, sometimes using the analogy that school is like a job where learning is the goal and collegiality is a prized commodity. Our frequent mantra to our students is that autonomy and ownership will carry the day and serve you beyond the arena of education.

The confusing part for us neuro-sculptors is, "How do I support someone who seems to not want it? How do I stay stay connected while keeping a distance that shows trust in their ability?" The short answer is we must constantly monitor this and continually let our adolescents know we are there to help if it is needed. Will there be times when that help is needed but not wanted? Yep.

Some means to help accomplish this and some things to ponder…


⇒Make these phrases a part of the conversation:

  • I'm listening.
  • Not everyone will like you, and that's OK.
  • That was really brave.
  • That was a wise choice.
  • Tell me more.

Empathize. Don't offer solutions unless they are being solicited. Kids need practice with weighing options, finding solutions, and seeing the outcome of their decisions, actions, and inactions.

When correcting kids, focus instead on the specific event that happened.

⇒"...what adolescents lack is not so much the ability to control their behavior, but the wisdom that adults gain through experience. This takes time and, without it, adolescents...who are still exploring will make mistakes. But these are honest mistakes, so to speak, because for most teens, they do not result from a lack of control."

Affirm what's going well. Listen to the little things, and they will let you know when big things happen.

Scott Thompson, Middle School Dean of Students

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