When teaching teenagers, it is common to face apathy, un-certainty, low or elevated self-esteem, a sense of isolation or loneliness, frustration and sometimes aggression. Sounds heavy on top of the curriculum workload? After all, most teachers are not experts in psychology.
Maintaining control in a classroom filled with teenagers is not a task to be undertaken lightly and requires real understanding and empathy towards what they are feeling and experiencing, as well as solid teaching tools to help you approach them effectively.
Teenagers nowadays often look, talk and act like adults, which can lead us to treat them as equals. On the other hand, we know that they are not and simultaneously expect them to respect our adult authority. Ironically, teenagers are developmentally neither comparable to children nor adults. Setting realistic expectations of your students, coupled with empathy towards the type of things they are going though is essential to being able to build a relationship with them and start off on the right foot. Teens are going through an important transition period in moving from childhood to adulthood and during the teenage years have to deal with establishing an identity, increasing autonomy and independence, sexuality and intimacy issues and combating others expectations of their own levels of achievement.
In his book on Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman mentions several aspects of emotional intelligence that are vital for teenagers to understand and master during adolescence. He highlights identifying and understanding internal emotions, empathising with others and identifying their emotional output and managing relationships effectively, as essential skills to be learned. Emotional intelligence, which should be measured separately from intellectual capacity and cognitive ability, can be heightened through a conscious process of teaching tools, skills and strategies for everyday life. We need to educate our teenagers in how to possess effective levels of emotional intelligence, which will in turn allow them to deal with these issues.
How Teenagers Learn
Teens do not learn the same way that adults or children do. They are more efficient learners than children, with the knowledge, life experience and the brain connections that they have developed. However, they are not on par to adults as learners, due to a comparative lack of information, experience and cognitive ability. Teenagers are still developing the critical and thinking Skills throughout adolescence that a well-developed adult possesses. Despite being better at learning out of the box then young children, higher level thinking skills such as complex organisation, planning and strategising skills are not fully developed and are generally refined during the later teen years. In fact, the teen brain continues to change form and physical sculpture throughout adolescence. A teenager owns these skills but does not yet know how to exercise them to their full potential. This in turn can lead to apathy or frustration as teenagers feel they cannot achieve what is expected of them. It is also important to note that teenagers also need a minimum of nine and half hours of sleep a night in order to fully achieve their potential brain and cognitive development. So, if you think your teen students are lazy or just not getting it, perhaps its time to think twice. Most teens don’t get this amount of sleep on a daily basis, which may well contribute, to apathy, frustration or lack of concentration in the classroom.
So what is our role in the teenage classroom and how can we guide our students towards personal and academic success?
As teachers, we need to be aware of these issues, continuously researching them and training ourselves in how to approach them, taking our teaching role much further than just what is on the curriculum. After all, social behaviour is learned from a model; so we must model appropriate social skills for our students and show them how to create realistic expectations for success. It may be difficult to establish a relationship with them as their teacher; after all you can never stop being a figure of authority. But as teachers, we should focus on building a relationship with our teenage students over time, presenting ourselves as a guide to their learning process rather than the absolute power figure. Gaining our student’s interest, trust and respect are the most significant steps we can take to building a long-term relationship with them.
Teaching Social Skills
We need to teach our teens how to socialise and work effectively as part of a group, how to be respectful, how to create rapport with others and how to develop their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills in general. We must take time out of our busy schedules to create and include classroom activities that have the sole purpose of encouraging and teaching the use of tact, empathy, appropriate communication skills and techniques tor handling confrontation. We may need to mediate social interaction between them at times, although involving them in that evaluation and mediation process will help them to understand how to approach a similar situation a little differently in the future.
Developing Effective levels of Emotional Intelligence
Teens need to learn how they can succeed in obtaining emotional independence, recognise and understand emotions and control their moods and frustrations. Our role in their emotional development is essential. We need to teach teenagers how to achieve their goals and motivate them when they succeed. However, it is just as important to teach them that “failure” is a normal part of life and guide them to develop persistence in the face of challenge and adversity. We must be willing to take the time to show them how to recognise and manage their emotions in order to help them reach their potential and achieve success.
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