When I teach Catcher in the Rye, students spend a period writing a short guide for adults who deal with teens: teachers, parents, coaches etc. I’ve been doing this for about five years, and I’m usually surprised by the depth of the response, this year especially.
Here’s the context, if this seems too good to be true. These are the grade 10s, who are 16-17 years-old. There are 31 of them (in two classes) of about 20 different nationalities. They are good to excellent students whose parents have high academic expectations of them. They are relatively independent and sophisticated, and generally their parents give them loads of leeway. (Three of them have their own apartments. Seriously.) Their thinking on these issues may be especially clear: in December they created a written complaint against an incompetent teacher who was not teaching them anything, which resulted in that teacher’s resignation.
They gave me permission to publish these. Here are some of their tips:
- If you are always smiling, or always angry, or always anything, we’re not going to believe you.
- Tell us what’s really going on: don’t always make us ask.
- We won’t trust you just because you’re an adult: you need to give us some proof.
- Be flexible and spontaneous.
- Listen to our ideas, even if you think they’re wrong; give us some space to try things out without constant criticism.
- Give encouragement when something goes right.
- You can show authority without being mean, and you can be nice without being patronizing.
- If you ask a question, ask to receive an answer, not to make a point; listen to that answer; and don’t keep asking if the teenager doesn’t want to answer or you will never get answers to any of your questions.
- Give us the benefit of a doubt. If we disappoint you, fine, but give us the chance.
- You talk about what you expect of us, but we have expectations of you, too, and if they are not met, we’ll do things you won’t like.
I wonder if these are useful or applicable to dealing with youth in the church, or if there are any to modify, add or take away for that purpose.