Friday, April 20, 2012

The Undefinable, Undeniable Teen

What are teenagers like?

Don't answer that. No matter what you say, you're wrong. Unless you say something like, "Depends on the teen," or, "As varied as adults, toddlers, senior citizens, or anything else." Those are cop-outs anyway.

Teens (like so many other groups) get a lot of generalizations applied to them. Like every other generalization or stereotype, you can point to textbook cases where they're true, and often just as many where they're utterly false.

Example: Teens are irresponsible.

If we're judging based on how some of them drive, then absolutely. On the other hand, I know teens who budget their money, make sure to take their car in for regular oil changes, and warn me two weeks in advance that they'll be missing school and need their homework.

The whole essence of "teenager" is that it's this amorphous time between childhood and adulthood where they have several traits of both stages at the same time ... and those traits are often in flux from one moment to the next.

This is on my mind today because of a particular pet peeve of mine—talking to teens like they're little kids.

I can't fathom how common this is in schools. Not like all teachers do it, or even most, but enough to puzzle me. I've often wondered—but have never had the guts to ask one of the perpetrators—why they talk to students as they do. They're not rude or anything. It's just this tone and approach to interacting with students that I know would drive me bonkers if I were a teen.

Do they really regard teenagers as roughly the same as elementary students? I don't know.

I can't say I treat students exactly the same as I treat adults, or even talk to them exactly the same way. But it's close. I try to acknowledge that they're in that transition, which means they're partway adult, but still in flux.

Maybe this attitude in teaching has informed my writing, because I try really hard to never talk down (write down?) to my audience.

And maybe that consciousness is why that "I'm talking like you're nine years old" tone drives me nuts.


Matt Sinclair said...

I could be wrong, but it sounds like such teachers believe they're superior, or perhaps that in their position of authority they must condescend to students. Never worked for me when I taught. Bad juju.

Brent Stratford said...

With teenagers you generally get what you give. If you treat them like children you are going to get child like behavior. If you treat them like adults you'll be amazed what you get in return.