Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Teens at Home vs. the Office: Comment on Joanne Jacobs article

By on May 2, 2008

I saw this article today, “Middle Class Teens and Leopold II,” by Joanne Jacob.  I always like seeing my Google Reader go bold when she’s got something new on the stove.  

Anyway, it pretty much talks about (but with better eloquence) the fact that middle-class teens are more likely to misbehave at home then at school.  I guess it’s based on a study, but it didn’t even have to go that far.  After all, any teacher can tell you that developmentally, a student tends to learn how to behave at the “office” first and then that, hopefully and eventually, translates to the home.  I commented:

It’s also developmental for Middle School and High School students to act differently at “the office” then they do at home.  In fact, we know many adults who can turn on the good behavior for a few hours a day and then come home a major grump.  Yes, there are those kids who are out of line, but those tween/teen years are the times that they test those lines.  As a middle school teacher, I have come across many a student who is a real pain in the “arse” but who grows up just fine and perfectly polite, having learned their lessons in life somewhere along the way.  Just because they haven’t learned it yet by middle school does not condemn them for all eternity.  It merely makes them, well, middle schoolers.  The key is to keep their developmental growth in proportion while still insisting on better behavior.  It is still our jobs as teachers and parents to request and require a certain level, and not allow them to slack even if they intrinsically don’t feel the “why” yet.  I guess what I’m saying is: they’re teenagers.  Don’t cut them slack, but don’t be surprised either. 

Regarding the Middle Class element to all this, I think many middle class children know that they have the “Scene Power.”  That is, they know that either embarrassment or concern will get the better of their parent if they only make a scene.  So it starts early, like at the age when a tiff at a market might be commonplace.

That first fit is a crossroads for a parent and will mark the outcome for many a power play in the future.  If the kid throws a tantrum, will the parent give their child the power, or will the parent let them know that making a scene is not a big card in that family?  

For teachers in the classroom, it’s very much the same.  If a kid calls you or your policies out by misbehaving, that needs to be dealt with lickity-split, both to serve as a lesson to that student and to other students.  We know, because we are given new opportunities at the start of each year, what will happen to our classroom community if we do not handle the situation when it comes up.  

We’re lucky.  As teachers, we get a mulligan each year for those instances that we feel we were not at our best. Every year will get a blank slate and get the opportunity to improve.  Parents have to get it right in the first wave of behavior issues or theirs will be an uphill road until that child learns the lessons themselves later on.

Sometimes I have parent-teacher conferences where clearly the parent is stunned by some of the GOOD observations I have about their kid.  It’s like they knew their child was capable, but the kid hadn’t let them see it yet.  As a middle school teacher, I know I get the honor of seeing some of those wonderful qualities in my students that their parents have yet to be allowed to see.  But it’ll happen, in time.  

After all, we see them at “the office.”  


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