Working with teenagers is the most wonderful, inspiring, challenging and life-affirming privilege.
Having done it for over twenty years, I am absolutely delighted that in the last three, I have discovered research and literature that backs up my rather intuitive feeling that we need to look very carefully the way we teach and interact with teenagers.
There are five key messages that inform my practice as a secondary school leader;
1. Teenagers are not just big children or young adults. They are a valid entity in their own right. Adolescence is not something to be survived or tolerated. It is an exciting phase of development where we need to nurture and facilitate.
2. Everyone who works with or parents teenagers needs to look at latest research.
3. Schools need to accept that educating teenagers is not easy within a system where one adult who represents authority has to manage the energies, personalities and potential of approximately 30 adolescents in a confined space for around an hour at a time. But difficult is not impossible. Allowing spaces for creativity and risk-taking with safe boundaries is essential.
4. Becoming more sensitive to what your peers think and less concerned about what adults think is an essential part of attaching to the people with whom you will make your future . To tell a teenager to ignore peer pressure is to underestimate the importance of peer to peer connection.
5. We adults need to remember that when teenagers rebel, it is never personal. You can hate me for now but my continued love for you is what will help you. You can push against my boundaries but I will continue to hold them so that you better understand the world.
My thinking has been influenced primarily by the research undertaken by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and I have blogged about her work here:
For the last two years, I have taught a module on the teenage brain to fourth year pupils at school.
This year I am also running a workshop for parents and carers.
The work starts with discussion of words and thoughts that spring to mind when pupils hear the word “teenager”.
When I say “discussion”, I handle this very carefully. Asking teenagers to talk about personal issues in front of their peers when sensitivity to peers is so heightened can be unwise and so I seek responses in ways that make it easier to elicit honesty: for example ideas written anonymously on small bits of paper which I read and then destroy.
I ask pupils to suggest teenagers as they are presented in books, films, songs and the news and we reflect on the types or role models that these teenagers are.
I use Kevin from Harry Enfield https://youtu.be/dLuEY6jN6gY
and Lauren from Catherine Tate https://youtu.be/JpgVokQEchA
and begin to suggest that perhaps teenage rebellion against adults is not just about “a phase”.
I then talk to them about Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s ground-breaking work and show this fantastic talk:
The drama “Brainstorm” from Company Three is a fantastic resource and script can be purchased from Nick Hern, along with a guide to making your own Brainstorm:
I also use Nicola Morgan’s excellent video:
If anyone wants a PowerPoint with links to all these resources, I can email one.
There is so much out there and so much to be excited about.
We must #CelebrateTeenSept and I will finish with Yaamin’s words from “Brainstorm”:
You say to me
Your brain is broken.
It’s like an adult’s brain but it doesn’t work properly.
It’s like you’re in a city you’ve never been to and you don’t have a map and you don’t know what you’re doing.
And you keep taking the wrong turns.
Listen to me.
One day you’ll be okay.
Your brain will start working properly.
One day your brain will be just like mine and then you’ll be okay.
But until then:
You’ve got to try and be more…like me.
I say to you
My brain isn’t broken.
I’m in a city I’ve never been to and I see bright lights and new ideas and fear and opportunity and a thousand million roads all lit up and flashing.
There are so many places to explore but you’ve forgotten that they exist because every day you walk the same way with your hands in your pockets and your eyes on the floor.
When I’m wild and out of control it’s because I’m finding out who I am.
And if I was a real wild animal
Then I’d have left by now.
My brain isn’t broken
It’s like this for a reason
I’m like this for a reason
I’m becoming who I am.
And I’m scared
And you’re scared
Because who I am might not be who you want me to be.
Or who you are.
And I don’t know why but I don’t say
It’s all going to be okay.
There are so many things I stopped saying to you.
I want to say them.
But I can’t.
Brainstorm Copyright @2016 Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and Company Three. Shared with the kind permission of Ned Glasier, who I had the great privilege to know when he was a teenager.