When teens ask for boundaries...

In my 8th grade classroom, we begin the day participating in an extension of Responsive Classroom, called the Circle of Power and Respect. Geared toward middle grade and teens, the idea is to build community and trust within the classroom by spending a few minutes every morning greeting and sharing.

A recent activity we did surprised me.  Around the classroom hung three signs: Agree, Disagree, and Unsure. The task for students was to listen to a statement, and respond by standing near one of the signs. Then, I would ask a few of them to share their reasons for their choice.

The first few statements brought no surprises as far as responses. They all agreed that they shouldn't get homework and that school should start later in the morning so they could get more sleep. They disagreed that schools should ban cell phones.  They were mixed on whether video games promote violence in teens.

I was very surprised at what occurred when I read, "Parents are too strict with their teens."   All but two stood under the sign that showed they disagreed. Two were unsure, and not one agreed.  I read the statement again, thinking that maybe they misunderstood what I read. I even rephrased it and clarified it. They didn't move.  So I asked them what their thoughts were. One 14-year-old girl volunteered, saying that "parents need to have more lines for kids."

I thought for a minute. "Boundaries?"

"Yes, boundaries.  Kids have no boundaries and don't know when they've crossed a line. Parents try to be friends with their kids, and they need to be parents and tell them when they do something wrong."  Wow.  I looked at one of the boys raising his hand, wanting to comment.

"I agree. Parents need to follow through with what they say and punish us. Otherwise kids won't learn how to act."

"You mean by punish, for example,  a parent should be giving a consequence?" I tried to clarify.

"Yeah, they don't do that. They threaten, then just forget about it. So kids keep doing things that are wrong because they don't get into trouble for it."

At this point, one of the "unsure" students walked over and joined the group at "disagree".   The activity was designed to show just that - whether one student's statements could sway another to change his mind. But the message here was heard loud and clear. Teens want more discipline in their lives. They know they need it, but don't know how to ask for it.

So, parents, I hope you heard this message loud and clear. Teens want their parents to be parents. I was as surprised as you are, but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't pleased at that response.

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