It always amazes me – and saddens me – when I hear about or read about parents who have no idea who their teens are, who cannot communicate with them or who are at a loss as to how to interact with them. What is more tragic, I suppose, is that this is considered the norm. Teens are usually portrayed as sulky, unfriendly, unhelpful and only interested in the latest technological gadgets. but I see a whole different picture of teens.
I am no naive person wearing rose-tinted Waldorf or homeschooling glasses – I have worked with teens for many years, in many different settings, including a group home for delinquent girls. So I’ve seen teens at their worst and their best – and their most vulnerable. And I readily agree that there are some pretty alienated and tragic teens out there – maybe, sadly, even the majority of young people in our country. But my point is that this is not inevitable. Just as it is not inevitable to have rude, loud and hyper 8 year old boys, it is also entirely possible to raise teens who are content, sociable and pleasant to be around.
Magic formula? No. There are so many factors involved here. A few really vital factors, in my opinion are: making sure that the family isn’t overscheduled and that a parent is home most of the time the teen is at home; having strong and non negotiable boundaries for computer/phone and gadget use; and actively cultivating the ability to listen. That last one is for us parents – it would certainly be nice if the teens would listen, too. But the first and most important step is that we adults model the desired behavior. And while we’re at it, we don;’t have a little voice inside saying “look like you’re listening to her and then she’ll really listen to you!” No. The listening must be agenda-free. We must do it because it is right. And we must trust that this will communicate itself to our teens and that, at some point, they will also learn how to listen.
As homeschoolers, I think we are in such good positions to tilt the balance toward a healthy and enriching relationship with our teen age children. If one has been through years of homeschooling together – seen all the struggles and failures and lived through the effort of a self-created life, then the children will internalize that and learn to live not merely as receivers of education, but as co-creators. And if they are co-creators of their educations, then they can be co-creators of their lives. And a teen who is engaged in life and feels she has some input in what is happening is more likely to be a happy and fulfilled person.
As communication is such a huge part of being together all the time – as in the homeschooling situation – then a child will learn how to communicate and how to work with his feelings – and witness time and time again how communication is dealt with in the family and how feelings such as anger, disappointment and sadness are worked with. It may well be that the most important aspect of homeschooling is not so much the wonderful education which we can give our children – but the human gift of knowing how to live with other people. Compromise. Sacrifice. Patience. Honesty. Perseverance. Aren’t these all qualities we want our children to have? And if our teens have them, won’t they be happier people, a joy to be around?
Sure, teen can sulk and rage and be irrational – so what? That’s part of growing up. But the difference between basically happy teens and those who are hollow and unfulfilled is that the storm clouds disperse in the case of the former group and do not become an accepted part of their wardrobe. With the latter group this can become part of their persona and, unfortunately, can define who they are or are seen to be.
My sons (2006) are 13 and 15. I love to be with them and they love to be with me. We have arguments and fights and tears and shouting. But we also have time to talk through problems and miscommunications, time to chill and just be. My 15 year old likes nothing better than to have his 13 year old brother (who is still homeschooled) and I to wait for his return from school and to “hear his day”. Yes – he goes to high school now. It’s a Waldorf influenced school which is co-run by the students. His involvement in his education and his life continues now in a larger arena and amongst his peers and other adults. I love to hear his day, I love that he loves to be with me and to share his news. His younger brother is the same.
When those despairing days happen, when nothing goes right and you ask yourself how could you have been so crazy to as to imagine you could homeschool your children, just look to the future. See your children as happy teens, pleasant to be with, content with life, engaged in society. Then you’ll be able to draw strength from that picture and know that it will all be worth it.