How to Get Along with Teenagers
A Different Lot
Teenagers are kind of a different lot. They tend to be unpredictable, and not really into the same things we adults are, like making a living, and cleaning our house. So, how do we get along with these sometimes moody creatures, the ones that used to be sweet, adorable children but have transformed into walking, talking sarcasm machines?
Well, as a former high school teacher and a stepmom to two teens, I hope I can offer some insight. Read this privately, though, please, because if your teenager were to see it, he would be not only shocked that you actually had to read about getting along with him, but he would probably see you as pretty incompetent. Just saying ....
Okay, here's the list. Be sure to take notes, ladies and gentlemen, and don't blame me if it doesn't work. I really have no idea of how to speak to teenagers, either, but I am going to keep trying!
Tips for Getting Along with Teenagers
- Talk about popular culture. You have no idea how important this is to them. Music is their world. It's not just something they listen to, in their room at night. Their music is on all the time that it can be, including during school, if the teacher lets them get away with it. And don't assume that a particular teenager will like a certain artist, for example, Tupac or Taylor Swift, just because you know another teenager that likes them. (I made that mistake once: mentioning the band, "Billy Talent," to my class, thinking I could relate to them. Unfortunately, they almost laughed me out of the door!) Adolescents, just like adults, are very specific in their musical tastes, from hip hop to Emo, to heavy metal, to classic rock. I even had a classroom of students in Northern Canada who swore by country music. But even if you mess it up, keep talking: music, games, TV, and movies ... teens live for their popular culture, and learning about it, lets them know you're interested in their lives.
- Be casual. Teens today have a real "coolness" to them, and don't respond to being too serious, too fast. So, be casual with them, and don't act like you know everything. Be open to listening to them, and try to be "chill."
- Tease them. Bugging them just a little bit, is a sign of affection. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of humour, but it's definitely the adolescent's humour of choice. Be a little sarcastic with them, but always make sure they know you mean it in a fun way. Hard-nosed sarcasm intended to hurt, will hurt them!
- Be the adult. As much as they like you to have a relaxed attitude, don't take it too far. When something's important, stand your ground. You'll earn their respect, and they will feel good knowing that there are limits. If you're a parent, be a parent. If you're a teacher, be a teacher. If you're a youth leader, be a leader. They have friends already, but they need someone older who really does stick to what she says.Which brings me to my next point.
- Know how important friends are. Friends are everything to this generation. So many kids have been brought up in a divorce situation. Families have changed and are not stable, and friends are there to fill in the gap. They don't just talk to their friends once a night: it's all day, via texting, and sometimes half-way through the night. Be interested in their friends, and understand that they mean everything.
- Just be yourself. Teens are looking for something that's real, because they're looking for their own identity. They don't want you to be putting on masks, and pretending to be some big-shot. They want to know the "real you,:" even if they would never admit it. Don't be afraid of them. Their music is different than ours was, and they are a thousand times more knowledgeable about technology than most of us. Otherwise, though, they still have the same concerns and the same problems that teenagers have always had: boys, girls, identity, direction, hormones ... and they need you to be there, the adult.
They Are on Their Way Out
Finally, remember that they are on their way out. By that, I mean that their job is to leave their parents and go and live on in their own sometime in the next few years. They have to test you: to find out the truth. They have to get mad at you, sometimes, to know they can be separate from you, and still survive. Teenagers push us away and resist us, because it's part of the maturing process. They have to develop their own strength, and just like in fitness, strength comes from resistance.
Just remember, though, through the chaos of being around teenagers, that it won't last forever, and you know you will miss them when they leave. So, enjoy them: their craziness and zaniness. They are so alive, and so fun! I have found working with teenagers to be exhilarating, because of their energy and vitality. So, even after a particularly trying day of rebellion and frustration, don't give up. Teenagers are great people!