And They’ll Quit Acting Like Crazy Teens
If you’re the parent of a tween or teen, it might be hard to imagine a society where those turbulent years don’t exist. But did you know that some societies in the world don’t even have adolescents? They completely skip this phase of growth – moving their children right into adulthood. Teenage years exist for chronological purposes, but not for a stage in life characterized by unbridled teenage tantrums, social experimenting gone awry, and irresponsible behaviors.
An article by Robert Epstein, Let’s Abolish High School, discusses an interesting theory. The teenage years are turbulent because we force teens to conform to the regulation and mundane madness of high school when they are actually capable of entering the adult world. Eighteen is the magic number in America – when you can vote, obtain certain jobs, or sign a rental agreement. However, years ago the teenage years were a time when people got married, had full-time jobs, and moved into their own, individual lives. Were they forced into this too early, or are we now holding kids back?
The argument is made by Epstein and within the research he cites that the increasing levels of restrictions we are placing on children are resulting in children who are infantilized – forced to remain at immature levels longer than necessary, or even healthy. In Epstein’s research he notes that teens today have twice the number of restrictions on them as incarcerated felons. They are in essence shackled by the lack of faith and trust we have in their abilities and maturity. Teenagers actually possess strengths that far surpass those of some “adults” in several areas: memory, intelligence, and perception.
An absolutely fascinating study from Harvard in the 1980s shows that as Western models of schooling (our traditional brick and mortar, grouped by age, compulsory attendance models) increase, so does teenage turbulence. In societies that adopt Western education methods, teenagers act like – well – teenagers. But in societies that allow for the freedom of the differences in learning styles, motivations, and circumstances of teens, the word teenagers does not conjure up images of reckless and combatant individuals. The social and emotional craziness of adolescents we see in countries like America are direct results of how we separate teenagers from the real world.
Imagine you are holding back a lion. The lion has strength, drive, motivation, and determination, but you don’t let it go after what it wants to pursue. It will fight you, scratch you, and search for a way to get free. After so many years of searching it is finally released – not because of behavior or earning a level of trust – but simply because it remained caged for a specified period of time. Maybe it lost motivation, a sense of direction, or has become frustrated and lashes out, or even just got bored and began bad habits. Our children might sometimes act like beasts because we treat them as such. We fear their fearlessness.
How Can We Leave Turbulent Teen Years Behind?
I’m not saying my 13-year-old is ready to rule the world, get a full-time job, and leave on a cross-country adventure. However, as a homeschool parent, I can attest to the power of self-directed learning and pursuing opportunities that interest the individual. It is the private joke among homeschoolers that our children never quite know in what grade they are, because we don’t define them so rigidly. When we stop leading our kids every moment of every single day, they can achieve far more than we give them credit for in typical circumstances.
Give them responsibilities. It is scary in this world where we see dark demons around every virtual corner, but we can’t prepare our kids for life beyond age 17 if we only keep them sheltered. Responsibilities are different from free reign – responsibilities like jobs at home and in the neighborhood build character and skills. Free reign is a teenage disaster waiting to happen.
Push for competency based progression. Our education system is built on compulsory rules – attend school for so many hours each day for each year of your life until you are a legal adult. Then you are magically ready. This method doesn’t teach children how to learn or how to love learning, it just forces them to be present – sometimes with no participation required. Competency based models of education allow for students to move forward when they are ready, in directions they wish to pursue.
Give them incentives. Our current methods don’t motivate our teens to progress. When they are given the freedoms to move in their own directions, they receive the responsibilities that go with those freedoms. For some kids this might mean moving through school at a faster rate, or for others it might be the opportunity to start their own business. (Sometimes the fastest way kids learn they need an education is to be set upon the world without one.)
Homeschooling is not for everyone – not every child or every parent. However, it does reflect one model of effective learning. The advances in virtual classrooms and more individualized programs (in a way a throwback to the days of apprenticeships), can make it possible for our children to grow to be contributing, happy, productive adults. Even if some of that happens before they blow out 18 candles.