Tag Archive for: parenting

Can We Talk about “Learning Loss”?

empty classroom with chalkboard in the forefront and wooden desks

Honestly, my stomach clenches when I even think that phrase. And I don’t want to position myself as some sort of expert on par with some of the folks who spoke with Meghna Chakrabarti today on NPR’s On Point but I do take exception to the wildly upsetting information that is being put out there without what I think is proper context.

The premise of today’s show on NPR was aUNICEF report titledThe State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery. 

It detailed some of the global reactions to the pandemic, including the length of time that school children were kept from their classrooms and what the effects of those measures seem to be. While it is probably indisputable that children didn’t maintain the educational momentum they would have, had the lockdown not happened, I take exception to the phrase “learning loss.”

These youth did not lose brain cells or the capacity to learn during the lockdown.

Children all over the world continued to learn while they were at home. They may have learned things like how to navigate technology, whether or not online learning is something that they are adept at, and what it is like to manage social relationships when everyone in your household is at home at the same time every day. And those things are valuable, even if there isn’t a standardized test that measures them. But it is important to note that, while these kids may not have been learning the kinds of things that teachers in classrooms teach them in a structured, rigorous way (how to read, how to solve complex math problems, etc.), they haven’t missed the opportunity to ever learn those things.

We know from looking at adult literacy programs that people who are 40 or 50 or 60 can learn to read, so sounding the alarm because a group of four or five or six-year olds didn’t learn to do it in the last two years feels disingenuous. Just because your child missed out on an opportunity to learn algebra during the 2020-21 school year doesn’t mean they can’t learn it this year or next. It is important that we recognize that the timelines we are measuring kids by are altogether arbitrary. Someone in the United States decided that the majority of structured, classroom learning of particular subjects ought to be done by the time most kids are 18, after 12 or 13 years of formal schooling. Someone in the UK decided that it ought to be done by year 10 or 11 and then kids can specialize in certain subjects. Other countries have decided that eight years of school are sufficient. And the way we structure the school year in this country has more to do with historical agricultural calendars than brain science. Meaning that just because kids didn’t take pre-calculus in 10th grade doesn’t mean they are doomed to failure, that they’ve missed the window of time they could learn it, and that they have “learning loss.” The human brain is a magnificent organ that is capable of learning pretty much forever.

More offensive than these kinds of pervasive conversations, though, are the things we’ve chosen to ignore that affect a child’s ability to learn more than their not being in a classroom with peers. (Also, it’s fair to note that many intelligent folks have been home-schooled or “unschooled”).

We know that poor nutrition affects our ability to learn. So does not having our basic physiological needs met. And yet, we have tens of thousands of children in this country alone who lack a stable housing situation, food security, and a supportive, loving adult in their lives, but we don’t talk about that as if it’s a crisis.

We know that learning takes place more effectively in relationship and yet our public school system is set up to cram as many kids in a classroom as possible and deprive teachers of the resources they need to adequately build relationship with their students.

We know that the human brain wasn’t designed to take in vast amounts of disparate information all day without breaks to integrate and make meaning and build understanding, and yet we subject middle and high school kids to anywhere from five to eight different classes per day with just ten minutes in between to get from one to the other.

I could go on, and on, and on, but I won’t. My point is that when the media focuses on things like this report, they are reinforcing the notion that the lockdowns were harmful to children in a way that isn’t accurate. Many children suffered socially and emotionally during the last two years, to be certain, and I wonder how much of that is due to the expectations that we as adults continued to have of them to “keep up,” as well as the isolation from their peers. We could be talking about the things that are much more impactful and important, like figuring out how to really meet the physiological, social, and emotional needs of children all around the world as a way to create the optimal circumstances for learning, but we aren’t. Instead, we are continuing to put pressure on kids and teachers to ramp up their efforts and make up for lost time and, frankly, that is only going to cause more harm than we already have. Please, can we stop talking about “learning loss”?

Parenting Soapbox of the Day: Please Stop Using the Word “Independent”

Photo: Imgflip user NickMartin1 https://imgflip.com/user/NickMartin1

I’ve said this before, but I believe it bears repeating. The goal for any of us as adults (or teenagers) is not independence. The opposite of dependence might be independence, but human beings were not designed to be fully separate beings, and, frankly, if we expand our understanding of what it means to be alive, we quickly realize that independence means death. We rely on the natural world to provide us with food and water and air to breathe. We rely on microorganisms within our bodies to help us digest our food, etc. etc.

The goal of raising healthy young adults is interdependence. Humans have a long childhood (much longer than most of the rest of the animal kingdom) for a reason, and that is to allow for optimal physical and brain development. Even if we haven’t set up our school and economic and social systems to support it (spoiler alert: we haven’t), our job as the elders is to nurture our young until their brains and bodies are fully developed. This is typically around age 22-25. Sorry. It just is. And even after that age, these individuals will not be fully independent. I just really wish folks would stop using that term because the more we say it, the stronger the belief that it is possible, and the worse we all feel (parents and kids alike) when it doesn’t happen.

I live alone and mostly handle all my own stuff. Getting food, paying bills, feeding my pets, managing my work schedule. But I am hardly independent. I get food from the grocery store, I go to the doctor when I’m feeling sick, I take my car to the mechanic when it breaks down. Other less “practical” examples include me texting or calling a friend when I’m emotionally overwhelmed and need support or a reality check, heading outside to walk on the beach and stick my toes in the sand when I need a break from being inside, reading a really good book to expand my ideas of what is possible. It is a key life skill to be able to discern when I need some support or help and whom to reach out to in order to get those needs met. When we talk to our kids about them being “on their own” or “independent” someday, we often skip past these kinds of lessons.

How do you know what to do when something goes sideways? How did you learn that?

What are the qualities of the people you trust the most to show up for you in ways that are most helpful? How did you learn that?

Where do you get stuck when you think about asking for help? Is it paralyzing to imagine asking someone for emotional support when you’re (still) grieving the loss of a loved one a year or three later? Who taught you what it looks like to know when you need help and how to ask for it without shame?

These are key questions we as parents need to ask ourselves so that we can begin helping our kids come to terms with the fact that they will never be independent, but they will need to be interdependent. Being interdependent means learning what healthy relationships look like and how to be part of them, but because of all the subtle  – and not so subtle – cultural messages we get about independence being the ultimate goal, it takes practice. The more we give our kids the impression that it is somehow shameful or signals that they are not truly grown up if they aren’t fully independent, the harder it may be for them to seek help and support when they need it, or to even admit that they need it. The mixed messages of “teamwork makes the dream work” co-existing with “you will be graded individually” are mind-bending. Normalizing the concept of relying on other people and discovering what it is that makes us and them trustworthy and accountable to each other can go a long way toward helping teens feel secure. Knowing that we aren’t expected to do everything on our own, solve every problem by ourselves, and be strong and stoic, but rather being able to rest in the larger web of friends and family, understanding and trusting that it is ok for us to ask for help builds a much stronger foundation. I think as parents, on some level we all understand this, but it is incumbent upon us to begin using the right words to convey those messages. If we say to our kids, “you can always come to me for help” in one breath and in the next, tell them, “you’re going to be out on your own someday and I need you to know how to handle this,” that’s confusing. If we pretend that independence is actually an attainable goal and voice that often enough, our kids will believe it and feel as though they’re falling short when they can’t get there. We would do a lot better to help our kids practice knowing when they need to find help and how to do it.

 

Shame Rebel Podcast Interview

 

I had such a wonderful time talking with Katie for her new podcast, Shame Rebel, where she explores different ways we carry and inflict shame on each other people. We talked about relationship, parenting, teaching, and how to stop shaming yourself. Check out all of the episodes and stay tuned for more news about the book that’s forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield for parents and educators of teens.

Taking Some of the Heat Off

Listening to the July 6 episode of The Takeaway, I had a moment of clarity and recognition and also an inward groan. The entire episode was focused on mental health, but the first 12 minutes was spent looking at adolescent mental health – specifically how these young folks fared during the lockdown months of 2020. As you can imagine, young people struggled during these months, but the inward groan (and also the recognition) came as a result of one major finding they talked about. Namely, that it was parents who were responsible for much of the angst adolescents felt.

I groaned because I think parents already blame themselves for so many things when it comes to their teens. We feel so ill-equipped to manage many of the things that come up during these years already, and a study that showed we really made things harder for our kids during the pandemic lockdown wasn’t going to make any of us feel better. But, on the flip side, I think it’s important to understand where we can shift the way we do things to reduce some of the stress on our kids, so here goes:

Imagine that during lockdown, you were stuck living with your boss. That, while you experienced some measure of independence and self-determination at work before, now they are sitting in your office or cubicle with you, supervising. They are able to see exactly what you do in any given moment of any day like never before. That’s how many of our kids felt. While they were used to being at school and making many of their own decisions before, suddenly they found themselves at home, maybe attending online school from the kitchen table, with us hovering, eavesdropping on the lecture perhaps, side-eyeing them as they picked up their cell phone to glance at something while the teacher was talking, noticing if they typed something into the chat box when they were “supposed” to be paying attention. Maybe they do all those things routinely in class anyway, but now they’re in a space where a parent is able to monitor that and it feels really awful to be constantly scrutinized.

Now imagine that your boss knows that you can’t go play on your evening soccer league team because of the lockdown. They know that you can’t travel to take care of an aging parent, so you don’t need time off of work. Consider that your boss believes that without these other things in your life, you have way more time to dedicate to work, and their expectations increase. That’s what kids told the folks who did these studies – that without extra curricular activities and social obligations, their parents (and teachers) ratcheted up the expectations for their academic work during the pandemic lockdown. And while it may seem like that makes a lot of sense, what we aren’t thinking about is the emotional labor kids were managing during that time and what a toll it takes on our ability to complete cognitive functions.

Adolescents already struggle with executive function – it’s part of their job during these years to practice and develop time-management, emotional regulation, cause-and-effect thinking, among other things. But when we are stressed or overwhelmed emotionally, the portion of our brain that is responsible for these things is unable to do its job effectively. And it’s safe to say that adolescents were feeling incredibly overwhelmed during the lockdown – I wrote about that here. So increasing our expectations for them was pretty much the opposite of what they needed, and yet most of us did it anyway.

I don’t say this to make you feel bad about yourself as a parent. I say this so that we can become aware of what our kids are struggling with and do better in the future. While lockdowns are mostly over in many parts of the world, our tweens and teens are still processing the effects of that time – trying to reconnect with friends and maybe catch up with academics, figuring out how to grieve the loss of milestones and also people lost to Covid, and managing their concern for what the future holds. We can support them in this by acknowledging the invisible work they’re doing to navigate all of that and ask what feels helpful during this time. Make sure they have plenty of opportunities to just play and have fun, get rest when they need it, and talk to us when they’re feeling like we are asking too much of them. Sometimes we can get too caught up in timelines and external expectations to remember that our teens still need a lot of nurturing and care.

Going Deeper with Non-Violent Communication

Many parents and educators will have some familiarity with the idea of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), and many will not. It is something that I have drawn on to create both parent and youth curricula through The SELF Project, and I believe it’s an important concept to explore in regards to relationship and community-building. If you’re interested, I recommend checking out The Center for Nonviolent Communication‘s website where they offer basic training, information, and opportunities to connect with others exploring this work. For now, though, I’ll simply include their definition of NVC here:

Nonviolent Communication, (NVC), is based on the principles of nonviolence– the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture.

NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. People who practice NVC have found greater authenticity in their communication, Increased understanding, deepening connection and conflict resolution.

The NVC community is active in over 65 countries around the globe.

The most basic rule of NVC asks that we try to focus our interactions around conflict and disagreement on our needs, rather than the tactics we’re using to get those needs met. Meaning, that you and I might be arguing about a political idea but what lies beneath our opposite positions is that we both want to feel safe and taken care of by our society. If we can peel back the layers of conversation so that we are able to acknowledge that we actually both want the same thing, the idea is that we can begin to connect on a more human level and expand our ability to have compassion for each other. But sometimes, that concept is trickier than others and here is why I think that happens:

Even if you and I both have the same basic need (ie. feeling safe and heard), it is important to recognize that what that looks like for each of us may be very different. You might feel safest if I don’t challenge you or disagree with you, while I might only feel safe if I am allowed to challenge your ideas or disagree with you. This generally happens in situations where one person has more power or agency than the other – say, in a classroom or a home where the disagreement is between a teen and their parental figure. If there is a power imbalance, it is important to address that before we can expect an honest conversation to happen.

In relationships that have been challenging or have established a dynamic where one person routinely sublimates their own needs or desires in order to keep peace (ie. feel safe), NVC may not be an option until there is significant repair of the relationship. If I have been told more than once that my needs are frivolous or imagined, it might be unrealistic to expect me to be honest with you about what I think I need in this situation, and if I can’t be honest, NVC won’t work.

Often, attempting to focus on what the other person needs can bring up some difficult emotions and thoughts, and this can happen for a variety of reasons. If it does, it’s a great opportunity to explore the relationship dynamic and look for a power imbalance, whether or not you generally feel safe with that person, and if there is mutual positive regard (ie. you trust each other and think the best of the other person’s intentions). It can take many conversations over a long period of time to establish a relationship dynamic that allows for non-violent communication techniques. It isn’t something you can simply flip on and have it work. Often, the work starts with us and our willingness to get really clear on our own needs and what they look like. For example, we may say we need to feel respected, but we also should be able to describe what that would look and feel like to us – does that mean you don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking? That you don’t try to explain away my needs or ideas as frivolous or over-reacting? That you are able to mirror back to me what I just said so that I know you were actively listening? It turns out that often, our idea of being heard or respected or safe is very very different from what other people think it is.

I do think it is important that educators and parents practice NVC with adolescents, both as a way to strengthen relationship and also to model it for them. I also know that it takes practice and intent and a willingness to spend some time looking at how we’ve managed those relationships in the past and what our needs are before we dive headlong in to challenging conversations.

New Youtube video on adolescents and stress/sadness

If you’re the parent or caregiver of an adolescent right now, you may be wondering how to support them emotionally during this time of confusion and unpredictability. Check out my latest video for some ideas and information about how the adolescent brain experiences prolonged anxiety.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RugeexTeB5g

 

How Parents Can Support Teens During Shelter-in-Place

Artist rendering of a heart with maroon and red script writing forming the shape

 

Even if your family isn’t under a shelter-in-place order, if you live in most parts of the world, your teens and tweens are home and trying to navigate online school and a really different schedule. While it’s a difficult scenario for everyone in the family, it can be especially challenging for adolescents to manage right now because of the social and neurological attributes of this period in life. So how can you help?

  1. Understand that their brains are reacting to this ambiguity by retreating to the most primitive tools human beings have: fight/flight/fear. (heck, we all are on some level). Adolescents process most of the information they get through their emotion centers, and it can trigger a response that turns their logic center off. When there is a specific threat, and they have learned to let emotions rise and fall, it’s manageable, but now, when the threat is largely invisible and there is no real understanding of how long this will last, how bad it will get, and whom it will affect, the trigger just keeps getting pulled over and over again. This makes it hard to settle down and focus on school work. It also makes it hard to access the parts of the brain that store memory, so forgetting to do their chores is to be expected right now.
  2. Help them find ways to turn off the fight/flight/fear response. One really effective way to do this is for them to do something physical – yoga, shooting baskets, going for a walk. Another great tool is guided meditation. Listening to someone else direct their mind in a specific way can help calm the physiological reaction to stress. Creativity is another way to tap into a different part of the brain – doing a puzzle, playing an instrument, coloring or drawing or painting or baking require a different kind of attention that can calm the nervous system.
  3. Encourage play. Laughter stimulates the vagus nerve and calms the nervous system. It also boosts the immune system to help keep them healthy. Card or board games, MadLibs, scavenger hunts, laundry basket basketball – do something absurd and silly at least once a day.
  4. Give them a measure of control. We all feel helpless, to some degree, and it is important for us to find ways to have agency over some aspects of our lives. If they can set their own schedule, let them. If it’s possible for them to add specific things they like to the grocery list (even if it’s junk you don’t normally let them eat), let them. Even small amounts of control can feel like an anchor during a time of uncertainty.
  5. Cut them lots of slack. Lots. Many kids will struggle to adjust to being home all the time, to learning online, to being away from friends. Adolescents are incredibly social, so if they need more time on their phones to stay connected with friends, it’s understandable. If it takes them a couple weeks to get in to a rhythm with classes, allow them the time to adjust. If they seem cranky with siblings or resistant to your plea to take the garbage out, remember, we are all in low-key panic mode right now and that doesn’t make for a very open and friendly demeanor.
  6. Model and be honest. Let them know how you’re feeling. If you feel unsure and frustrated, you can be certain they do, too. If you snap at someone, apologize. If your mental health requires a period of time during the day where nobody asks you for anything at all, communicate that clearly so they know what to expect. Teens don’t often see their parents as human beings or think that we have an inner life, so the more we can let them know that we are struggling with this new arrangement, the more likely they are to feel like it’s ok for them to struggle, too. And while you’re at it, do steps 2-5 for yourself.

Tips for Parents: Words Matter

Most of us would have a ready answer if asked about the stories that are told about us in our families. Many of us wouldn’t even question those stories, given that we grew up with them and heard them over and over again. Maybe we were anointed the “driven” one, or the jock or the one who makes Mom craziest. Often, these stories are told in jest, to other parents or teachers as a short-hand way to describe a child, and they often conjure up certain attributes that may be accurate in many ways. But it is also important to understand how limiting and potentially harmful they can be over time. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of this that I’d like to share.

Last weekend I was at a gathering where I knew almost nobody. The room was full of people my age with a similar interest, and while many of them knew each other, there were also many pockets of conversations going on where strangers were getting to know each other. It was a lively group and I was enjoying hearing about people’s lives and finding some common ground. In one instance, I was speaking with someone who has grown children and, as my oldest daughter moved far away from home for college, I inquired whether the children lived in our area or farther away. In describing each child, I learned about where they’d gone to college and what they were interested in, and then it happened:

“My oldest child – he’s the f*#k up of the family.” It was said with a laugh and a certain tone of affection, but it felt stunning to me nonetheless. The way the phrase so casually rolled off to a stranger led me to believe that this child is often described this way.

The second instance was a couple months ago when I had occasion to reconnect with a young person I deeply admire. I had a stack of my recently-published book One Teenager at a Time sitting on the kitchen table and I opened it to the acknowledgments page and showed this amazing young person that their name appeared as someone who I credit as being an integral part of my work and the birth of the book. They were stunned and excited and asked if they could take the book with them when they left…”so I can show my parents and prove to them that I’m not a loser!

Again, this phrase was uttered with a laugh and a nonchalance that belied the sting of it. I have known this young person for a long time and I have heard them use that word in reference to themselves many times before. Each time I have gently let them know that I don’t believe it’s accurate in any way. Despite that, their overall belief is that their parents believe they are a loser.

It is so important to understand how quickly our words become our child’s inner critic. We can tell them we love them daily, and when they hear themselves characterized as a “loser” or an “idiot” or a “pain in the ass,” they can believe both that we love them and also that they are not living up to our hopes and dreams. They can develop a sense that they will never be good enough or that if they just worked hard enough to be something else (not do something else – because name-calling is about saying someone IS something, not that their behavior needs to change, but that THEY need to change), we might love them more. The damage that does to the self-image of our children is enormous, especially if those comments are made with derision, especially if they are made as a joke, as a given, as something that describes the entirety of this person’s being.

In my family, I was known as the “good child,” the compliant one, the one who my parents could count on to do the Right Thing. In many cases, that was a point of pride. Sometimes, it was something I weaponized and used against my siblings. But ultimately, it kept me small, kept me from trying new things, thinking outside the box, questioning rules that seemed unfair. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy because it was used from the time I was very young, and when I reached adolescence and was tasked with defining my own identity and exploring who I really wanted to be, it boxed me in to a certain set of characteristics that weren’t necessarily comfortable, but I had blindly accepted that my parents knew me best, so any time I questioned them, I felt somehow wrong.

It is natural for us as parents to find some sort of short-hand to describe our children. It becomes harmful when we use those terms with disdain or to shame our kids, or if we talk about them as if that is all they are when we describe them to other people. Giving our adolescents room to explore their own ideas of who they are is a key part of helping them develop a healthy self-image. Letting them know that we support them as they seek to grow rather than pretending we already know who they are and what their fate is can create room for a stronger, healthier relationship.

My hope for these two young people is that they hear other voices in their heads telling them that they are not “losers” or “f*#k ups.” That they know that they are beloved, allowed to think in different ways and try new things and make mistakes without fear of being known as the one person in their family who is less than. My hope for their parents is that they come to acknowledge the power of their words and seek to use new ones that let their children know that they are so much more than a derogatory term used in jest.

learning vs. knowing

As parents and educators (or mentors or coaches), it’s imperative that we get in the habit of taking a step back from our habits and normal practices to ask whether they’re serving the kids we work and live with.

Unfortunately, I think that, too often, we forget that learning is a process and not like flipping a switch. In order for learning to take place, a lot of different things need to be happening – attention, emotional readiness, context, and previous understanding, among other things. And the question we need to ask ourselves about the way we teach kids and what we expect of them is this:

Do we want them to LEARN or do we want them to KNOW?

Often, I think we end up shaming or punishing kids for not KNOWING something we think is obvious, rather than taking the time and effort to teach them about it, what it is, why it’s important, how it can look and feel.

I once heard someone give an example that struck me as the perfect illustration of this*. She said she asks a class full of students to raise their hands if they’ve ever been told to “pay attention.” Predictably, nearly every single hand goes up (if not all of them). Then she asks them to keep their hands raised if anyone has ever taught them to pay attention. Most of the hands go down.

Think about the kinds of things we get annoyed with kids about, roll our eyes about, expect them to KNOW how to do. Now think about whether we’ve ever had foundational conversations with them about what we mean by that, what we think it looks like, how they could learn to do it. Even if we think we’re leading by example, how do we know that kids are watching us with the same thoughts and intentions we want them to have?

I might get frustrated with my kids for not loading the dishwasher the way I want them to, but if I haven’t spent time teaching them why and how I like it that way, is it fair to expect them to know all of that? The fact is, if we aren’t taking the time and care to TEACH, we have no business expecting kids to know how to do things. And if we set out to teach them something because they don’t already know how to do it, mocking them for not knowing won’t engender trust and facilitate the learning process.

As educators, we can’t know what a kid’s previous experiences were like, so while it may be time and labor-intensive, it’s important to check in with them and make sure that they’re comfortable with the procedures and expectations we have. If we want papers to be turned in electronically, we have to ensure that they’ve been taught to do that. If we want them to speak up in class or work with their peers in a productive way, we need to ask whether they’ve been asked to do that before and if they understand what it means to be on a team. Some of our classroom norms might be completely new and it’s our job to spend a little time laying the groundwork for every student in the class. If you’ve got a student who has been home-schooled, make sure they know how to work with others, get their needs met in a full classroom, find their rhythm and pace in this setting.

Helping kids feel successful means being on the lookout for times when we are expecting things of them that they may not know how to deliver, and supporting their learning process. If we truly want kids to LEARN, then we have to not make assumptions about what they KNOW.

*I’d totally cite the source here if I could. I’m pretty sure it was a mindfulness teacher talking to Oren Jay Sofer for a Mindful Schools webinar, but I have lost the link. It was definitely a woman and she’s written books on the subject, so if anyone knows, please let me know and I’ll give her the credit she deserves.

 

Effective SEL Practices for Educators (and Parents), Part 1

You can have a curriculum or a set of ideas in front of you and still not know where to begin when it comes to working with teens on social-emotional health and well-being. Because there isn’t an answer key, it is often intimidating to sit down with an adolescent or a room full of them and talk about hard things – things that most of us haven’t been encouraged to share. I’ve been studying Dr. Craig Elliott‘s work on social justice and racial caucusing and many of his ideas adapt well to this kind of work.

PRE-WORK – Before we start, it’s important to think about some key things that could impact how we interact with kids, especially around difficult topics.

  1. We have to examine our parenting/leadership experiences to find patterns, norms or habits we have, history or traditions we carry forward without thinking about them, and stereotypes and myths we have about teens, kids of color, gender roles, etc.
  2. It is also important to examine our relationship with leading/parenting – did we come to it with enthusiasm or not, have we internalized ideas of what it “should” or “shouldn’t” look like, are we resentful of the role itself?
  3. Next, we need to spend time thinking about our own experiences as teens – were they largely positive or negative, are there things we suffered through that we feel are “rites of passage” and we will perpetuate?
  4. And finally, be very clear on your intentions as you move forward – are you looking to help the adolescent(s) in your life come to their own conclusions or is it more important for you to impose your values and will on them, are you looking to establish your own place as an expert or do you want them to find their own expertise on themselves?

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER – We learn best in relationship, but only if we feel safe. For teenagers, this not only means that they feel free to share their ideas and thoughts without fear of punishment, but that they feel as though they are part of the group, that they won’t be mocked or shamed for thinking out loud or expressing ideas that may not be fully formed. Belonging = survival in the adolescent brain. This means that it is incredibly important to spend more time and energy investing in community-building, especially in the beginning. Respect, safety, and accountability are all key parts of a strong relationship.

It can be incredibly intimidating to dive in, but there is no Right or Wrong answer. It is most important that we begin. We can always change course, apologize for mis-steps, and learn to do better, but we have to do the work.

Part 2 will look at qualities of effective leaders, strong groups, barriers to productive work, and expectations for leaders. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.