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Who’s afraid of the big, bad teen? Tra la la la la………………….

So many people say to me, “Wow, you’re brave!”, when I tell them I’m a secondary school teacher.  It strikes me as odd.  But then, from a non-teacher perspective, that huge boy with a massive baseball cap and falling down jeans is walking towards you in a sideways way, taking up more space than he needs.  Is the word ‘swaggering’?  Actually no, but anthropologically speaking, George W Bush was seen on many occasions to strike up this kind of walk, and it means something; what the walk is saying is “I am bigger than I seem” (read: more powerful).  It could be likened to the puffa fish puffing itself up, or the (male) garden birds fluffing out their feathers, in other words, it is a display, a mere show of strength, a put-on.

Looking deeper, these animals display in such a way usually out of fear of a potential threat (the other option is of course to attract a mate).  Was GW feeling fear each time he did The Walk?  Probably not physical fear.  Psychological, possibly.  Afraid of seeming wish-washy, undecided, unsure, uncommitted in the eyes of the viewing press.

So the teenager walking down the road, is he experiencing fear?  Does he walk that way when he’s alone?  Perhaps, yes, if he is practising it.  Also perhaps, if it has become embedded.  Will he walk that way when he goes to kiss his grandmother goodnight?  Doubtful.  So why then?  He is doing what the animal kingdom do instinctively, he is showing strength in order to prevent attack.  And the world he lives in, in which many people are perceived as dangerous, is not one he created consciously as much as inherited, and from whom did he inherit such a world?

I’ve heard it said that if trouble walks towards you, cross the road, and this is sound advice.  But look more closely at the teen who you might be automatically naming thug, youth, and whatever else the frightened mind can come up with in the nano-seconds it takes you to make the judgement.

In a classroom situation, children give no quarter.  They say as they see, and will spot your weakness at a hundred paces.  And what’s wrong with that?  In the clarity of their appreciation of you, in their correct witnessing of you, I think of it as an opportunity to sort my stuff out, for you can bet that I’m carrying some kind of baggage if they are sensing it.

Teenagers are  champions of justice.  At home and in the classroom it’s the clarion call of “That’s not fair” that we hear most often.  As a teacher, you can’t be partial to someone, fairness is all, equality reigns and justifiably so.  You can’t treat one unequally, you’ll be sniffed out in a second.  This innate instinct for fairness is surely the mainstay of the future world, their future.  Since young people do not do what they are told, they do what they see, then your job is to embody all the qualities you wish to see, and does that not make you a better person?  Of course it does.  With the spotlight on you, young people reflect back at you your own discrepancies like bright blemish-free mirrors.

One of the things I love about young people is that they are still little savages, and transparently so.  That savagery is something we adults might do well to remember about ourselves.  This is the primitive ego at work in its purest sense.  It is, in school, an issue of survival.  They adapt, just like the puffa fish.  They group together for safety – have you ever been barged off the pavement by a group of teens?  They’re not being rude (they know what they’re doing), they’re just sticking close together in an admiral display of solidarity.  They identify the others in their tribe by the way they dress and the language they use, by the music they listen to and the exact amount of boredom they evince during lessons.

When we grow up and enter the work place, we hide that savagery, but make no mistake that it lives within us still.  Think for a moment if you have ever, in your adult life, experienced how viciously gossip can strip away someone’s self esteem, how the ganging up on someone that we think of as playground stuff happens with lightning speed and utmost efficiency.  We are hard wired to leave the weak ones behind, after all.  The difference between adults and teens is that the grown ups are adept at hiding the fierce teeth which need to rip and bite.  With teens, the teeth, and claws, are very much in evidence.

And why shouldn’t they be?  Socially, it’s hardly acceptable, but spend a moment to think about your own work environment and ask yourself where the petits sauvages are.  They are there at the water filter making whispery snide remarks.  Or there, in the boardroom, watching your presentation dwindle into nothing.  There they are, up atop the slippery pole, standing on someone’s face to get better purchase.

I often think it a shame when I see the teens moving from whirlwind vivacity to quiet groups, about year nine or so (age 13-14).  They’re learning, adapting, evolving into what we expect of them.  Where is the wildness now?  Does it become suffocated?  Does it live on?

Young people admire what they wish to become.  As a teacher, they want you to maintain control and fairness, at all times.  This might sound strange to you, that they want control, but nonetheless, it is true.  Until they are ready to take up the reigns of their lives, they expect you to be in control.  They respect you for it, and I don’t meant the authoritarian shouting kind of discipline.  They want those safe boundaries to stay in place until they are ready for them to be moved outward again and eventually dropped to the ground.  Angry teens may not have this kind of safety at home, their essential nurturing experience may not be there at all.  After all, teens with The Walk can be seen in all major cities, and why should this be?  There is more potential for danger there, perhaps.  There is more poverty, or less parental interest perhaps, or a closed society filled with examples of how a child does not want to be, and many many more reasons, sadly.

The power that teen feels walking down the road and frightening you is both thrilling and appalling to them.  Same goes if they scare a teacher into submission and that happens more than you’d care to know. It’s thrilling for them to feel a sense of power, borne out of the Ego stating that it is better than/stronger than, or whatever.  Appalling, because the teen is not yet ready to make decisions about how he wants to live his life, not yet.  Ask him if, when he was small, he wanted to be what he is becoming now.  He will tell you he wanted to be a sportsman, an entrepreneur, and engineer, a pilot…..

And that mouthy teen, the loud one, she’s the one who, every day for three weeks, asked me if my hand was healing well.  This hand had been used to stop a fight between her and another sixteen year old (knuckles used not to punch, but to hold apart).  She might have learned the fighting at home, but where did she learn the empathy?

Where and into what, can we channel this wildness?  Where, if anywhere, did you channel yours?  Or is it still there, sitting and waiting to be called forth at a time of need?  Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks of the Wild Woman.  The archetypal Id.  The I Am, scowling in the shadows of the cave that is the deep mind, the reptilian brain, the primitivity within us all.  She will not be bidden, administered, tamed or told, but is content to eat to excess, to let off wind in public, to belch and to scream.

If you talk to the teens, you’ll find out what drives them, but they have to trust you first.  Then you’ll see them without the ridiculous posturing, the trying to impress, suppress and make fearful.  They are closer to the Source than you are, they are both purer and wilder, benefitting from the very lack of the social adhesion to which you aspire.  They might surprise you, they probably will.

Teens are innate team players.  Take them on an adventure weekend, and watch what happens.  Take them to Go Ape and hear the screams of primal joy unbound.  Take them to build a bridge across a river with block and tackle, go build a wigwam of willow in the forest.  Don’t expect anything, but wait and see.  Watch what happens when wildness is given the opportunity to breathe.

And don’t forget to have a go,yourself.

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  1. I really love your site.. Pleasant colors &theme.
    Did you build this website yourself? Plewse reeply back as I’m planning
    to create my very own website and would love to know where
    you got this from or exactly what the theme is named.

    • Hi Kudos, it’s by wordpress.com, I can’t remember the name of the theme – but it’s very obvious if you sign up and look at their themes (all free!). Best wishes.


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