On the Journey
news reel: stories of People, places, and learning AT Aspen Country Day School
I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about this developmental stage we call adolescence. I've been learning about this fascinating subject - these fascinating people - for over three decades, and I never get tired of it. In fact, I'm so immersed in my research, that I decided to get braces to give me more empathy for this tumultuous period of life. Many of you are just now wading into this anthropological study for the first time - and it might just be throwing you for a loop!
And speaking of loops, navigating adolescence is like approaching the ROUNDABOUT on your way to school each morning. As you enter this now ubiquitous Colorado mountain town traffic engineering device, you put on the brakes and enter slowly. You check out who's already in your path and who might jump in, cutting you off. You then figure out how to merge into your lane of traffic while looking to the right and left to make sure you're not going to side swipe another car. Awkwardly - sometimes skillfully - you dodge the other vehicles while following that one that zips ahead, casually seeming to know what it's doing and where it's going.
Maneuvering through the adolescent years, like negotiating the roundabout, requires PATIENCE. Try to be nimble and approach it boldly, knowing you must exhibit HUMILITY as you assess the situation, recalibrate your position, looking for signals from others, give a wave of appreciation when someone lets you in, exit the roundabout with a surge of adrenaline and a sense of accomplishment. You feel INDEPENDENT and a greater sense of control as your car whisks its way up Castle Creek Road with a sense of purpose. ....Now you can relate to what your middle schooler experiences every day!
So how do we guide our children as they face this potential traffic snarl each day?
I want to ask you each to hit the RESET BUTTON and encourage your children to do the same. September is synonymous with the start of the school year. It conjures up shopping for school supplies and a first day of school outfit. First day of school jitters and questions about schedules. Anxiety about waking up early and managing the homework load.
One of my favorite things about the cycle of the school year is just that: It's a cycle...an interval of time in which one set of events or phenomena is completed.
Like the roundabout, the school year has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stuff happens (events like outdoor ed or the all school play, or phenomena like your kid gets smarter, more independent), and then the school year's over. A few months later, it starts again, only it's different each time.
Yes, each school year is different from the one before, and the one before that...and so on. Of course developmental milestones are the tangible differences - your daughter is taller, your son finally "gets" how to divide fractions - but there are also changes in friendships, interests, sleeping and eating patterns, successes, and challenges...to name a few.
What if we all intentionally hit the RESET button at the beginning of each school year? What if we told our kids NEW YEAR, NEW YOU? What if they left behind the bumps in the road from last year, or years before that - the spat they had with a classmate, the struggle on a history assignment, the misunderstanding with a teacher - and wiped the slate clean, giving themselves another chance to get it right, or to try again and perhaps stumble, but to learn from the experience?
Or what if our kids forgot about their top finish in the Geography Bee, the ease with which they learned the Periodic Table, or the solo they had in the musical? Well, maybe they don't want to forget about these successes, but let's just say we encourage our kids to put them aside for now so they can focus on the things they want to achieve this coming year? Avoid relying on past victories to predict future ones, and instead hit RESET and see what else is out there that they might conquer?
Sometimes we're quick to label our children, allowing them to stumble through life with false assumptions about who they are or who they might become. We forget they're remarkably malleable human beings embedded with so much resilience they don't even know they have it yet - because we haven't given them a chance to bounce back from adversity.
This summer the middle school faculty read iGen by psychologist Jean Twenge. It's a fascinating study about our children, who are growing up in a world of unprecedented technological resources that are leaving them feeling more isolated than ever. Twenge quotes one 13 year old who says, "I think we like our phones more than we like actual people." How many of you are seeing this in your homes? Twenge says the average teen checks their phone over 80 times a day. Now aren't we glad about the school policy that phones are off between 8-3 and we don't allow them on off campus trips?
Wendy Mogel, author of Voice Lessons, talks about the natural development of children as separate human beings from their parents. And perhaps their preoccupation with their cell phones is the modern way of achieving this developmental goal. However, we as parents and educators can certainly strike a balance - giving our kids time and space to become "separate" while still being connected. Certainly our new middle school advisory program fosters more face-to-face interaction, as do class discussions, Outdoor Ed trips, casual conversations during recess, activities with our lower school buddies, and much, much more.
If we're quick to label our children, Mogel says we're missing out on "a new person every day: more cells, more wonder, more variations of anguish and delight." (p. 272) She encourages us adults to slow down, put down our own phones, and turn up our curiosity and enthusiasm to deepen our connections with our children.
That's why I like the cycle of the school year. Students come to us in the fall wide-eyed, a little jittery and uncertain. As the months unfold, they build their confidence as they try new things and forge new relationships with peers and teachers. Sure, they occasionally fall down (which we want them to do) but soon learn to pick themselves up and try again. By May, they land on their feet, an experienced sixth or seventh or eighth grader.
If we allow our kids to hit RESET at the beginning of the school year - or, better yet, each day - imagine the power they'll feel. If they can reinvent themselves each day, imagine the freedom they'll have to explore who they truly are and what really motivates them. Before you know it, they'll find friends who inspire them to be better people and teachers who challenge them to think for themselves.
Let the roundabout serve as a reminder that our middle schoolers have a lot to navigate, but with our guidance, patience, and support, they're going to grow into amazing adults.