As parents and teachers, we do everything we can to make sure that our kids and the children we teach grow in confidence and learn to resist negative peer influences. But it’s impossible to deny that being insecure and wanting to fit in is a very common experience among most adolescents. What can we as parents and teachers do to help our kids stay confident and resilient through these challenging teenage years?
Kindness, Not Control
A few months ago, a study was released that confirms that parent-child closeness and parental affection lead to an increased sense of self-worth in adolescent children. This study is not alone in highlighting the positive relationship between caring parent-child relationships and the ability for kids to resist negative pressure from their peers. A study from China found that mothers who treated their children in a warm way that kept controlling behavior to a minimum had kids who were less likely to follow their peers into bad behaviors. Another study found that disciplining adolescent males actually made them more likely to join in with peers in underage alcohol use. Authoritarian parenting, while well-intentioned, generally seems to make kids more likely to fall victim to antisocial peer pressure.
Teach Self-Discovery and SEL
More important to teachers is learning what we can do in the classroom to play a positive role in increasing our students’ confidence and self-worth. Erickson suggests that teachers should be ‘sanctioners’ of students’ talents. In other words, teachers should focus on finding out what kids are good at doing. This goes beyond the curriculum and extends to hobbies and social and interpersonal skills. This helps students to discover positive adult roles that they might wish to choose, and affirms that they are valuable and capable people. Teachers should provide authentic opportunities for students to learn while ‘trying on’ these roles.
Like parents, teachers should avoid being overly critical of adolescent students. Adolescents are especially vulnerable at this identity-seeking stage to internalizing these judgments. Teachers should create classroom environments of tolerance and acceptance that support students as they struggle with fitting in and forming cliques.
Even though it sometimes seems like our words fall on deaf ears and that the power of peer pressure in the lives of adolescents is impossible to overcome, that is often not the case. Most investigations support the value of positive parent and teacher involvement in helping children to resist negative peer influence. The main thing to remember is that strict discipline and harsh judgments only push students away from caring adults and towards their peers. Supportive and caring relationships focused on helping kids to discover themselves and find their own way through the teenage years help to build trust between adolescents and the adults in their lives who care about them the most.
 McAdams T, Rijsdijk F, Eley T, et al. (2017). Associations between the parent-child relationship and adolescent self-worth: a genetically informed study of twin parents and their adolescent children. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 58(1), 46-54.
 Chan, S.M., & Chan, K.W. (2011). Adolescents’ susceptibility to peer pressure: relations to parent-adolescent relationship and adolescent’s emotional autonomy from parents. Youth & Society, 45 (2), 286-302.
 Marshal, M.P., & Chassin, L. (2000). Peer influence on adolescent alcohol use: the moderating role of parental support and discipline. Applied Developmental Science, 4(2), 80-88.
 Curtner-Smith, M.E., & MacKinnon-Lewis, C.E. (1994). Family process effects on adolescent males’ susceptibility to antisocial peer pressure. Family Relations, 43(4), 462-468.
 Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity: Youth in crisis. New York: W.W. Norton.
 Hamman, D., & Hendricks, B.C. (2005). The role of generations in identity formation: Erickson speaks to teachers of adolescents. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas, 79(2), 72-75.
I learned something new a couple of weeks ago regarding student rights in Seoul. Issues regarding student discipline in our school brought to my attention a document called the Seoul Metropolitan Government Student Human Rights Ordinance. This document, put into law in 2012, guarantees certain student rights as being inviolable.
The document itself is available online only in Korean, but I had it translated so that we could ensure that the rights its promises are ensured in our program-wide discipline plan. The rights that it protects, in summary, are:
Apparently, the document has caused a lot of discussion and heartache among teachers in Seoul. Many teachers feel that it limits the ability of teachers to manage behavior in their classroom and makes it more difficult for them to make sure that students are completing their work and staying on task.
While I understand the frustration that some teachers feel in having certain disciplinary practices and options removed from the table, I also understand why others would find it important to protect student rights in schools. Gone are the days of corporal punishment and writing lines endlessly as punishment for in-class misdeeds, and rightfully so. Perhaps, given newer research in brain-based learning that indicates that students need breaks from learning and physical activity (really easy to find, but here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to start), educational legislators are coming to realize that punitive detentions and loss of breaks and privileges does more harm than good when it comes to student achievement and motivation.
Our school has been working to put into practice a new program-wide discipline plan based on Restorative Discipline and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, and learning about the existence of documents like the Seoul Student Human Rights Ordinance makes me feel even more like we are making the right choice. Despite concerns about limiting teachers’ powers in the classroom, I feel that, as educators who put students first, it’s hard to disagree with the need to protect students’ rights.
Restorative Discipline and PBIS seek to support positive behaviors in the classroom while keeping in mind that students are vulnerable people undergoing growth who need relationships of trust and support with adults to support their development. Though it may be hard to get used to for some of us, I believe that moving towards a more caring and inclusive approach to discipline is the right thing to do to put our students first.
As a school administrator, I spend a significant portion of my time observing teachers’ classes and giving feedback to try to help them to improve their practice. I also have to make judgments regarding the direction of our program and what matters most for our student body. It’s a job with a lot of responsibility, and I’ve been really lucky this semester to have had tons of support from the super-hardworking teachers at my school.
In order to better serve the teachers and students of our school, I recently sent out a Google survey to the faculty, asking them to review my performance as program manager over the semester thus far. Personally, I’ve tried to be mindful of my successes and failures the past months since taking this position, but, as our faculty is an important stakeholder in our school community, I feel that it is important that I seek their anonymous guidance and get their opinions on how well or poorly I’ve been doing my job.
To do so, I crafted a brief survey using Google forms and emailed it to the staff, requesting that they fill it in when they had the time. I used the standards put forward by the Ontario government to inform the process, but heavily modified the criteria to fit the specifics of my position and our school. I don’t think that the rubric assessed everything about my practice, but I do feel that it covered some of the main duties I hold that our teaching faculty would be equipped to assess me on based on our work together.
With some trepidation, I entered the email addresses into the form and hit send…
Waiting for the feedback to arrive was really exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. We’ve had a super-interesting semester with many changes and challenges. I was curious to find out how people felt about the leadership they were receiving, and ready to make profound changes to my practice if required.
I was pleased to discover that, for the most part, the teachers who submitted responses were satisfied with my approach to the work that we are doing in our school. The criticisms were measured and constructive, and expressed a genuine desire to improve our school. I learned a lot, and much of what I read matched my personal assessment of my weaknesses and struggles this semester.
The positive feedback I received was very motivating, and I was glad to note that our English-speaking faculty are as proud of our team’s success as I am. And, sometimes, teachers expressed sentiments that were wholly unexpected.
I appreciate how. . . even if he is really busy he makes you feel like he has all the time to truly listen, not just hear. His feedback and support have really changed my own teaching vision and helped reinvigorate my passion for teaching again. His drive to make our school better creates this energy where others want to actively pursue ways to make our classes better.
Damn. If that doesn’t motivate me to continue to show up and try my best everyday next semester, I don’t know what will.
Our school and a bunch of our super-dedicated teachers are deep in the midst of preparing for a curriculum overhaul next year. There is a lot going on, and a lot of moving parts that we’re working with, but one of the most exciting is our new Global Citizenship curriculum that is currently in development. Proposals from grade leaders should be rolling in over the next couple of weeks before summer break, and I’m keen to see what everyone has come up with.
The push to include global citizenship in our curriculum stems from the unique situation that we find ourselves in at my school: teaching English to Korean students through a content-based, partial immersion approach. The standards that we are basing our curriculum around are awesome: the new BC curriculum standards. They were just released in 2016 and are great and forward thinking. The one issue that we encountered in dealing with them, though, was that the social studies standards are very Canada-centric content-wise. In many of the years there isn’t much of an issue, but in some of the upper elementary grades so much of the content involves specific Canadian history that it would be of little use to our Korean student body.
In order to provide a social studies-esque education that holds some value to the students, we decided to take on the subject from a global perspective. Developing global citizens is a part of our school’s vision, and our push to break down the walls of our classrooms using blogging and technology may find our students engaging with the world at large. Learning how to participate in a global community will be valuable to our students now, and most certainly in their futures as the world gets smaller due to developing technologies.
Research led us to two potential sources for standards: Oxfam and UNESCO. After a happy debate over an hour or so, we came to a consensus that the Oxfam global citizenship curriculum suited our needs best. It outlines 7 understandings, 7 skills, and 7 values that students should develop and learn. The 21 topics are addressed differently across a number of age levels and standards are provided. In addition to the standards, Oxfam also provides some brief but useful documentation outlining teaching strategies that educators can use to approach the subject.
It excites me to be building a curriculum in our school that will provide our students with the skills they will need to engage in the global community today and in the future. Combined with the digital citizenship curriculum we provide our students, we’re set to foster learning that will provide our students with the skills they will need to lead! We’re only just beginning, but I can only imagine how far we can expand our global citizenship directive in the years to come.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.