Go Closer

When my three boys were little, my friend Liz (mother of four boys) taught me six valuable words:  “Raise your seat, not your voice.”

It’s a simple idea:  instead of yelling across the room (or up/down the stairs, or into the other room), raise your seat off the couch and go to where your child is.  When the kids were toddlers, this meant walking over to them, telling them “No,”  and relocating them.

I don’t recommend trying to relocate your teen; it will only make him mad, especially if he’s bigger than you are.  The teen version would be more like this:

“Son!  Did you do the dishes yet?”

“No!  I will as soon as I get to a save point in my game!”

A half hour passes with no sign of life in the kitchen.

 “How about those dishes!?”

“In a minute!  I just have to beat this level!”

At this point a frustrated parent may yell and threaten, which may or may not lead to the dishes being washed.

Instead, try walking into the room where your teen is.  If it’s a bedroom and your teen has earphones in, you can make eye contact, get her to remove the earphones, and state your request.  You also have the “power of presence,” which means she’ll be more motivated to honor your request just because you’re standing in front of her.

With the game-playing teen, you can walk into the room and watch to see when he gets to the save point.  You might even offer to take his place in the game (he’s not likely to accept).  You can also be annoying by commenting on the action: “Who’s that over there?  What’s that weapon you’re using?  How did you earn those points?”  It won’t be long before he’ll do the dishes just to get you out of there.

Or maybe you don’t yell – maybe you do what I used to do in our tri-level house:  text your kids in the other room.  The same principle applies if you don’t get an appropriate response; you put down the phone, stand up, and walk into the next room.

I’m all for avoiding a battle whenever possible.  In this case, you can avoid the battle – and burn a few extra calories while you’re at it.


Living By The Code

Somebody took my chocolate.  I keep it in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet, and I dole it out as prizes or rewards.  After Christmas, I had a good stash, because I’d brought in stocking candy from home, and I’d bought a couple of bags of Christmas clearance candy.  Last Thursday I opened the drawer and was shocked to see how little was left.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t opened the drawer in the past week, so I have no idea how long it has been missing.  All I know is that a few days before, I had a full bowl and a couple of almost-full bags, and now I only have a handful of Hershey’s miniatures.

I’ve asked the students (and their parents) to keep their ears open for any leads on the perpetrator(s), but I’m not sure how much good it will do.  Even though I’m on good terms with all the students, it’s hard to fight The Code.

The Code, which is observed by students of all personality types and abilities, simply says “You do not get your friends – or people you like – into trouble.”  I used to be surprised at how even class leaders and straight-A students would adhere to this code, until I figured out something critical:  most junior high students see it as a moral obligation, right up there with offering to share your lunch when your friend doesn’t have one.  It’s a sign of your loyalty, a test of your friendship – you just don’t rat out your friends.

In the past, when the truth has come out, I’ve gone back and asked friends of the guilty party why they didn’t tell me what they knew.  Looking distressed, they’ve all answered the same way, “I knew I should tell you, but – I didn’t want to get my friend in trouble!”

It’s easy for adults to write it off as succumbing to peer pressure, or as an attempt to gain popularity.  But it isn’t always fear of repercussions that is the motivation.  Teens at this age are at an interesting moral place; they’re examining what they’ve been taught and taken for granted as a child, and evaluating its worthiness in their own worlds.  At the same time, they’re measuring their moral codes against those of their peers.  In the spectrum of moral maturity, they’re somewhere in the center – no longer doing what’s right because they’ve been told it’s right, but not yet able to decide for themselves based on internalized principles.

To put it more simply, they do what seems right based on what their friends will think.  In this case, even though they know it would make me happy to discover who took my candy, in their hearts they feel it’s wrong to turn in their friends.  This isn’t the same as being a snitch; they’re often more than happy to snitch on those who are outside their circles of friendship (as long as they can remain anonymous)!

In fact, I’m hoping it’s that snitch who solves the crime for me.

The Power of a Post-It

Just a tale to share how we’re dealing with a classroom issue:

Our 8th grade girls this year have done an amazing job of not causing drama among themselves.  This is good news!  The bad news is that they don’t cause drama because they all get along so well.  Imagine a dozen 13-year-old girls who are friends, spending the day together.  Now multiply times five days.  For 36 weeks.  Spice it up with articulate, energetic, noisy girls who all have opinions to share on any topic that comes up, and you get the picture.  I said, “YOU GET THE PICTURE!”  Oops – sorry for yelling; it’s become a habit to make myself heard sometimes.

My fellow teacher and I tried explaining how disrespectful and inconsiderate such behavior is.   Then we tried nagging, admonishing, scolding, and pleading.  The girls would settle down for a day and a half after each discussion, but they’d soon be back to full volume.  We were frustrated, because this is a group of engaged, positive young ladies; we’re not dealing with an “us against them” mentality, nor with undermining of our authority.

Last week their writing assignment was to develop resolutions and goals for the rest of the year.  I invited them to check in with me if they needed help thinking up goals for themselves.  Over the weekend one of the girls texted me, and I suggested she work on not blurting so much.  “Do I really blurt that often?” she replied.  And voila!  An idea was born – an old technique, actually, that I hadn’t used in several years.

On Monday I handed a Post-It note to each student (boys, too), and asked them to make a mark every time they interrupted or made a comment without waiting to be called on.  I told them we teachers would help by pointing at them when we felt they should add a tally.  The girls really got into the spirit of it and were surprised to see they blurted answers as often as eight times in a 50-minute class period.  Kayla took it a step further: “I didn’t interrupt, but I gave myself a mark every time I wanted to interrupt.”  She was shocked to find herself making six marks.

Today there was marked improvement in our class discussions.  By making them aware of how disruptive they really are, we empowered them to take charge of the problem and solve it themselves.  There was still blurting, but it was followed by a guilty look and often a “Sorry” instead of someone nearby trying to outshout the speaker.  And I saw more than one girl open her mouth and then promptly put her fingers in front of it while raising her other hand.

It’s an old adage:  Awareness of a problem is the first step in solving it.  With teens, that awareness has to come from within, not from adults pointing out their shortcomings.

The trick is to find a way that helps them discover it for themselves.