Adolescents aren’t just big kids. Their hormone-driven behaviors and attitudes are evolution’s way of showing us that they are seeking independence and autonomy. Yes, they’re big kids. But they’re not just big kids.
Neither are they adults. Their brains won’t be fully developed until their mid-20s, and their desire for independence doesn’t usually also bring with it an understanding of responsibility. Yes, 18 is the legal age in the U.S., but we all know that age is more about capability than ability.
Adolescents are in the process of becoming adults. In fact, prior to modern schooling, adolescence didn’t exist as a separate thing: adolescence was literally the beginning of adulthood.
Adolescents’ biological readiness for parenthood (i.e., sexual development) helps propel their social and emotional drive for independence and autonomy, and their risk-taking was likely crucial in our ancestors’ exploration of new lands and lifestyles. However, just because they’re in a state of social, emotional, and biological becoming, doesn’t mean that they’re in any way deficient.
I love the perspective that Joseph and Claudia Allen take in their book, Escaping the Endless Adolescence: “seeing adolescent brains as different should not automatically mean seeing them as less capable.”
Students often progress through adolescence in our classrooms and schools without really growing much closer to the potential of adulthood (at least not with much help from schools themselves). We graduate high schoolers with a pat on the back that somehow the right of passage of high school graduation marks a coming of age in their becoming. I’ve sat through nearly 15 years of high school graduations filled with well-meaning platitudes and aspirational messages to which the actual measures of high school rarely apply.
I think there’s an inherent opportunity in our schools to better foster, encourage, teach, and model the behaviors, attitudes, and well being of a fully realized adult.
Here are three ways to foster adult well-being in our students:
1. Trust that our teens are innately well, wise, and capable.
I remember learning as a new parent that talking to a child in baby-talk can limit their growth - talk to them with big words and with big trust that they can and will understand. Similarly, teens are capable of adult conversations: talk to them like they can handle it, and they will be able to handle it. Trust that teens have the capacity to understand and care about those things with which we approach them with meaning, care, and honesty. Trust is an invitation to grow and develop. Teens are craving it.
2. Allow teens to answer their own questions about life, choices, and pursuits.
Perhaps we adults have that 30,000-foot view and can anticipate what will happen next. So what. We certainly don’t know what will happen next for the specific teen in front of us. Give them space and encouragement to develop their own answers and to allow their own insights to arise. The truths that stick for us are the ones that we’ve seen for ourselves. Teens don’t need us to impart our wisdom to them; they do, however, need us to guide them to hearing and trusting their own innate wisdom.
3. Model the behavior and attitudes that we want to see from teens.
From my post The Capacity to Respond Without Constraint: there’s an immense opportunity to positively impact the lives of our students by modeling the being of an adult. By demonstrating thoughtfulness, creativity, compassion, enjoyment, engagement, and satisfaction. By demonstrating honesty, courage, understanding, respect, and collaboration. By demonstrating ease, love, and passion.
Time and again I am reminded how much teens want to be heard and trusted. Most of them will rise to meet our expectations, so let’s keep our expectations high and trust our teens to rise to meet them.
We don’t want our students to make the same dumb, dangerous, selfish, and unwise choices that we, our friends, and kids we grew up with made. We’ve now got our own kids’ safety in mind, and for many of us, society seems to be sitting precariously on a dangerous precipice. But our fears and insecurities are partly what’s holding them back. Our fears and insecurities are certainly holding us back.
Many adolescents are craving our trust and partnership. By fostering adult well-being in our adolescents, we invite them to join us in fulfilling the possibilities and potential of being an adult.
Thanks for reading ❤️.
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