Last week we instituted a seating chart for 7th and 8th graders in the lunchroom, which caused the expected whining and complaining. One angry young man approached me and said, “So we can’t sit by whoever we want?” Such phrases don’t translate well in print, but anyone who’s heard them will be familiar with his tone of voice.
As my blood pressure rose, I was tempted to take the bait, replying defensively with, “Look, you brought this on yourself. If you could just behave appropriately, you wouldn’t have to suffer. I’m not the bad guy here.” However, experience has taught me that my response would not be met with, “Oh, you’re right. Thank you for explaining it to me.” Instead, the door would be opened for arguing and proclaiming of innocence and accusations of picking on people for no reason.
So instead I just said, “Yep, pretty much,” accompanied by a small, sad smile and a shrug. The young man looked frustrated, shook his head in disgust, and walked away muttering. I wisely did not ask him what he was muttering, as that would have started a fresh conflict, and my goal was to defuse this one.
In the 1983 movie War Games, a young Matthew Broderick teaches a computer about the futility of thermonuclear war by having it play several games of tic-tac-toe. In the end, the computer comes to an important conclusion – one every parent would be wise to adopt when faced with teenage attitude:
“The best move. . .is not to play.”