Adolescence is an incredible time for a child. It is the last step before adulthood, starting at about age 12 and lasting for 5 to 10 or more years. As childhood ends these preteens see physical changes start to happen, then social changes happen, then emotional changes happen.
Often elementary friends change in middle school and then again in high school. So many things about a child changes in middle school and high school. They change fast and they change often. Their brains and bodies are trying to figure out who and what they are. It’s amazing to watch them go through this process, but it often feels impossible to help them or even understand them while they go through this stage. As a teacher I’ve been watching and trying to help students get through this stage of development for over 20 years.
I think I began to understand these children when I looked at where they were and understood what was going on in their heads. They are right next to adulthood. They can see it and it excites and scares them. This is the time for teenagers to look at and set goals for their future lines of work and to think about relationships in a more physical and emotional way.
Whether we like it or not, one of the first things they need to do is to start making their own decisions. They start to pick out their own clothes in middle school and by high school they want to go shopping with friends. Soon they’ll have a job and decide how to spend their money and what to do with their free time. Will they experiment with drugs? Will they experiment with sex? Will they be good students who do homework and study? Will they join afterschool clubs, activities, and sports? Whatever they choose to do, they’ll have to put a little bit of distance between themselves and the adults around them to do it. I don’t think this means we should abandon them; in fact, we should continue to support them and try to let them learn from their mistakes.
Teenagers will reach out to adults, both male and female, to help them work through this stage of their lives. The hard part is trying to help them when they don’t want help, and having to see them fail. As a teacher I always tell the students that I’m here for them; before school, and after school, I will make myself available.
Positive and negative role-models are around students all the time and they will hopefully make the right decisions more often than not. Adults are very important in the lives of teenagers and as a teacher I try to give them as much positive support and feedback as I can.
Middle and high school students want to spend a lot of time alone, which makes it hard to share our pearls of wisdom with them. They will spend hours thinking about what they would have, could have, or should have done that day or the day before. Or they will spend hours contemplating their future life, whether it’s the weekend , next month, or when they grow up.
As they contemplate the past and plan for the future, it’s our job to give them the tools they need to be successful. Hopefully they will use these tools to build a life for themselves that is productive and happy.