“Understanding adolescents as theoreticians and examining risk taking as meaning-making activity helps us see beyond the rhetoric of “at-risk” youth” (Nakkula & Toshalis, pg. 45). If I was pushed to choose one sentence from this book (and I have already read the book) to summarize the point of the book, it very well could be that one. The statement made in that sentences forces the reader to step back and reconsider adolescents as both dynamic and intelligent people. Too often I hear conversations where children are described in a sort of static state in which they are labeled in many ways, most of which are derogatory. Gabe did/does not turn in homework assignments … he is not accountable … Allie cannot stop talking in class … she is out of control … Poor Brittany lives on the south side … she must be poor … It seems that it has become easier to label students and simply treat them according to their labels than it is to engage with the students in meaningful ways. As opposed to giving up on students or showering them in pity.
Anyone who takes a moment to step back from the frustration of dealing with over one hundred children on a daily basis (yes, it can be frustrating at times) would see that children are not static. “Much of what adolescents choose to do, whom they relate to, and how they spend their time is contingent upon the self they are seeking to create, test, and revise” (Nakkula and Toshalis pg. 18). This could mean that students who are always buzzing around either want to be like me, so they will test me to either redeem their wanting to be like me or decide that they do not want to be like me. Granted that this is an utterly narcissistic way to view the previous quotation, but I think that it may also help reframe the relationships between those adolescents and the adults in their lives in such a way that it is flattering to the adult. Changing the lense through which we view our children can help us be more helpful to them as they navigate the trials of adolescence.
“To dismiss such experimentation and the anxieties associated with it as a mere “phase they’ll get through,” “raging hormones,” or simple “rebelliousness” is to devalue the unique opening this developmental era represents” (Nakkula and Toshalis pg. 24). It is not just the careless name calling attitudes of jaded teachers in the breakroom that can be detrimental to students. It is the careless and unintentionally clumsy conversations that we have with them that can also be damaging - perhaps even more so when they occur within a space of trust. I am reminded of a conversation that I had with the son (let’s call him Keith) of a close friend. Keith at the time was about sixteen or seventeen years old (I have been consistently in his life since he was about nine or ten). As we were listening to some music that his father had playing (think James Brown, Stevie Wonder … old/new soul and funk) the conversation turned to current trends in music, specifically dubstep. What happened next was that we (his father and I) politely told him that our choice of music was better than his. Perhaps this is a mild example. Yet, it serves to show that we can be careless even with those that we love.
As I write I am reminded of the discussion we recently had in class about the teaching that is intended and the teaching that is not intended. In my previous example with Keith, I do not think that there was an intention for teaching. Rather, it was a moment in which Keith’s dad and myself made it clear that his choice of music was not as valued as ours. I now wonder how he may have received that tidbit of “knowledge”. I wonder how many times we minimize our students issues with the demeaning message of “wait until you get to the real world”. As if their world or their problems are somehow not real. If nothing else, chapters two and three in of Understanding Youth have been a good reminder to me of what it was like being a teenager trying to figure out who I am, how I fit into the larger world and how much I needed and valued the input / validation of the adults in my life. Now I am the adult. Now I am The Validator (in the Arnold Schwarzenegger voice).