What Teens Really Need to Learn at School

Sometimes it takes a village to raise a teen

Posted Jul 06, 2018

If you ask any teenager what they should really be learning in class, you might be surprised. Or not.

Yes, lunch is their favorite class. Or gym. Or study hall. Hopefully they have at least one class where they feel encouraged, talented, safe, and interested.

But as they shuffle from period one to seven, their backpacks and phones just aren’t full of all the answers they’re looking for, whether it’s about money, sex, drugs, jobs, mental health, or one of the many topics that they’re all experiencing for the first time in real life.

So Which Topic Do They Need to Talk About?

Any counselor, teacher, or parent with ears will hear a variety of topics within just one conversation with a teenager. This is because teens are not only figuring everything out at a breakneck speed, but they’re asked to be accountable, mature, and masters of whatever it is as well. Most of the time they’re still at the 101 level of figuring things out while on social media—so their private dilemmas may become public domains.

Sarah, who is on an IEP and is currently dealing with her parentsdivorce, may just want to talk about a book she’s reading. Jacob, who is still dealing with his feelings for the ex-girlfriend, might not want to talk about going back on certain medication he was taken off of before his latest growth spurt. And what these kids really need is a pair of the right attentive ears and a good mentor--even if for a little while.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

The right teacher may notice the exact thing a parent may be missing; an obstacle or goal that a therapist is working on with a child may be just the right topic to write about in English class. And at the end of each day, the child may be done dealing with one topic (for now) while the parent is just becoming aware of whatever it was that happened between drop-off and after-school clubs.

No, This Isn’t the Movies

A teenager who needs help is a teenager who needs help, whether it’s a talk about mental health, sexuality, or how to think about college. There is no magical teacher, counselor, or mentor who is always ready to swoop in, diagnose, and deliver the perfect answer before the big turning point and the credits. Each teenager is a differently layered individual who is working just as hard as adults to make the day go faster. They do this while also making sense of their minds, bodies, and places in this world. A parent who notices that her child’s eyes look to the floor only when she’s talking about math, or a teacher who picks up on the manic sides of a pupil while that teen seems reserved most of the time, may be the best front line for that student’s safe delivery into adulthood. And as long as each teenager has a good support system of professionals and friends, she will succeed at her own rate, no matter what anyone says or pushes her to do.

Like adults, teenagers don’t realize they have a real problem until it’s too late—or until they willingly admit it. Every addiction, health malady, and experimentation has its roots in some problem, wrong choice, or situation where that support system broke down. And don’t forget: Teenagers will be teenagers—that is to say, they might lie or engage in certain behaviors to protect whoever it is that they think they should trust. They may “act unlike themselves” in order to get what they want quicker or faster. They might pit parent against parent or therapist against teacher, just to control what they can, whether it’s protecting friends, hiding feelings that may be too embarrassing to admit, or fixing a situation in the short run.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Each teenager should have a support system that includes a teacher, mentor, therapist or counselor, and a “community” friend” (someone from the neighborhood, job, place of worship, or other civic group) outside of their close or best friends. This network is vital to the success of every kid--and when that network breaks down, the teenager will seek a similar figure to fill that void, whether for good or ill.

So be ready to really listen the next time your teen wants to talk about how to balance a checkbook instead of recapping Dickens or the finer points of trigonometry—and be prepared to hear whatever is on their mind as well as guide them toward the best help they may need for some of the answers you might not have ready right now.