Connecting With Teens

As a teacher, coach, father, person, I’ve always been pretty good at connecting with teens. Maybe for the following reasons:

1) I enjoy them, quirks and all. Well, the vast majority. I like their energy, goofiness, earnestness, naïveté. I don’t think of them as a separate specie that is up to no good. Sometimes I even abandon my peers, “cross over,” and sit with them at multi-family get togethers. Most teens rise to the level of adult expectations.

2) I look past outward appearances. I know they’re not going to look the same at 30. I don’t read much into funky haircuts, baggy pants, wild hair coloring, and piercings. Those things don’t reflect a lack of values, they’re just trying out different personas and learning to blend in with peers. One evening eighteen years ago, after a day spent exploring the Washington D.C. mall, my squeeze and I, with our one-year old daughter in tow, collapsed into chairs at a table at the Pentagon City Mall food court in Alexandria, VA. One minute later a group of about seven teens in black trench coats, with the requisite black hair, nail polish, and piercings started to settle into the table next to us. When they lit up, I walked over and calmly and respectfully said, “I don’t know if you guys saw the sign, but this is a no smoking area.” They apologized, got up and left. Exactly what I envisioned would happen.

3) I like some of the same aspects of pop culture as many of them. Which helps bridge the generation divide. Turns out many of Nineteen’s friends at the Midwest liberal arts college know the contents of my iPad. What a claim to fame, the geezer who likes pop music, hip-hop, and rap. Please understand though, I don’t listen to Eminem or watch Glee in order to bridge the generation divide. The “fake it until you make it” cliché does not apply to consuming pop culture in order to connect with teens. When it comes to teens and pop culture, fake it and forget it. The interest has to be genuine. It probably helps that my adolescent self is still alive and well. Just ask my family sometime, I’ve never completely outgrown my immature, stupid younger self. My arrested development helps me connect with teens.

4) I make fun of myself and joke around more generally. I haven’t met a teen yet that doesn’t appreciate self-deprecating humor. They live in perpetual fear of others laughing at them, so when I’m making fun of myself, it’s a much appreciated respite from their normal “people are about to laugh at me” anxiety. Ten weeks into my first year of teaching in inner-city L.A. I was at war with third period U.S. History. The class could have tipped either way when one day I yanked down the large U.S. map attached to the front board and it flew off the hooks landing across my upper back. Without thinking I went full Dick Van Dyke, grabbing said map, throwing it to the ground, and stomping on it. They thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Since I was human they decided to give me a break. Over the remaining thirty weeks I built a nice rapport with those students.

5) I anticipate bad decisions and am careful not to overreact when they stumble. More commonly, adults are surprised and disappointed by teens’ mistakes. Then they assert their authority and hand out strict punishments. From this teens learn more about adult power than what they might do differently the next time they have to make a difficult decision. Error prone teens always appreciate it when adults take the time to listen, talk, teach, and individualize necessary punishments.

Weekend Notes—December 18, 2010

Miscellaneous notes unrelated to the blog’s laser focus on questioning education conventional wisdom.

• Saw a great documentary on Yao Ming five years ago. He’s very personable and likable. Since seeing that film I’ve followed him. It’s disappointing to learn he’s out for the season and that he’s probably played his last NBA game. China’s Bill Walton sans the scruffy beard, unrivaled college education, and Grateful Dead vibe.

• The GalPal turned 50 recently. Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Fifteen’s gift tells you everything you need to know about what it’s like to live with a teenager.

• For me at least, swimming is very different from running and cycling in that I have to think about my form all the time. I get lazy and revert to muscle memory which means my elbows aren’t high enough, I cross over a bit, my stroke gets too short, and I don’t complete my stroke underwater. The challenge is trying to change these flaws simultaneously. The obvious answer is to work on one at a time, but sometimes when I try to add an additional correction in, the previous fix unravels. And the harder the set and the deeper in a workout, the worse my form. I’d probably be better off just doing slow drills for a month. Whatever I do, I swim nearly identical splits. Today’s 100′s were 1:25′s with toys (paddles/buoy).

• Just when I thought Lance was over the 2009 Black Hills Triathlon, he wants me to commit to racing the Boise Half Ironperson with him. He’s dastardly. It has a noon start. I’d begin the run around 3:3op in Boise in mid-June. I was born in Boise and I love symmetry. Maybe, like a Pacific Northwest salmon, I should return to and die in Boise? I’d rather do this race.

• The more minimalist in orientation I become, the less I like traditional Christmas gift giving. I know I should focus on the spirit of the giving and be more appreciative, it just seems most gifts don’t fill any real need and unnecessarily contribute to clutter. If you’re still wondering what to get me, massage gift certificates are $47 at the Briggs YMCA.

• It’s nice having Eighteen home from college. She had a great first trimester. Proud of her and just hoping and praying I can hang with her in the pool Monday.

• In the shocker of the week, I created a twitter account (@PressingPause) and as of today, I have one follower. Look out Linkedin and Facebook.

Thanks for reading. Have a nice weekend.