Looking out my office window I can clearly see that the American Revolution is in full swing still. Our wonderful friends/volunteers from the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution have set up four authentic re-enactment stations, complete with tents, full costuming, artifacts, and props. Bringing history alive just a little bit for our students makes me smile! Kudos to our social studies department.
A large portion of the 8th grade social studies curriculum is dedicated to the uncovering of the pressures and causes that ultimately led up to the American Revolution - and the founding of our nation. Not uncommon in the thinking of our tweens is the mistaken idea that "The Americans" rebelled against "The British" and fought for who would get the right to live on this verdant continent. Or... equally prevalent but also incorrect, is the impression that the uprising of the colonists was because of onerous taxes being levied against them, and they finally reached a financial boiling point and said, "Hands off my money. Enough is enough!"
While there are shards of broken truth in these twin ideas, the general consensus among historians is that the real driver behind The Boston Tea Party and the subsequent acts of resistance leading to full scale revolution was a decidedly adolescent impulse. The proud British citizens living on this American soil got fed up with being treated like disciplined teenagers. The colonists saw themselves as mature citizens expecting commensurate rights and privileges, capable of making their own life choices, and worthy of respect. And they resented deeply being treated like children, in particular not being brought into important decision making processes (taxation without representation!...) by King George - it was an affront to their collective ego!
Anything ringing a bell here? When they felt like they were being looked down upon and dismissed as incapable human beings, they responded with a progression of sulking, whining, acting out, digging in, tantrums, and ultimately acts of defiance and rebellion. What to an American tween is manifest as bedroom door slamming, to an American Patriot it was dumping tariffed tea at Griffin's Wharf. Our tweens splatter undifferentiated vitriol all over their parents: colonists spilled hot tar all over their royally appointed governors. The colonists sent endless letters of complaint to Parliament; our whining adolescents likewise seek to wear us down to a nub.
In short, the irony of the American Revolution as I see it is that a collection of adults grew tired of being treated like children, so they began acting more and more like children, until the day came when they found themselves in a very adult crisis. And out of this irony was born a nation like no other. I'm not at all suggesting that this is a template for how we should be parenting our teens. I'm merely pointing out the inherent challenges we face in raising kids who are somewhere in between Play Dough and making dough. In one moment they are still very much children; and in the next moment we see before us a young woman or man. When I most needed my two boys to dig deep and present themselves with class and dignity, they never failed to do so. When I allowed them to be sloppy with their ethics and conduct, they were quite happy to meet that expectation as well.
This serves as a strong reminder to me that our children tend to rise to meet us at the level of our expectations. And I believe we should be holding our tweens to a much higher expectation than the culture around us is generally selling. Conversation after conversation this week, Cresthill students seem to be telling me their poor choices (insubordination toward adults, cruel and hateful comments toward peers, casual stealing from the cafeteria, etc.) are incomprehensible even to themselves. "I don't know why I did it. It's just what I felt like doing at that moment... it's no big deal. I didn't think I'd get caught," they tell me in so many words. Mass culture sells our kids: "Do your thing. Be yourself. Make your own rules. There is power and status in flaunting the rules of right conduct. Teens are supposed to be hateful." Let's face it, in Western culture our adolescents are coddled and protected in their childlike cocoons far longer than they need to be. Because of our abundance, we have the luxury of prolonging the years of childhood - something makers and marketers of toys, gadgets, devices and other distractions relish.
There is no simple road map or rule here. Just the constant encouragement we parents and community members can offer to one another. Sturdy parenting ain't for wimps! Our kids are thirsty for direction - they are looking and watching for cues and clues for how to successfully navigate this life. And if we abdicate our role and responsibility in this, they will go to the wrong well to quench their thirst. Adolescents are hard-wired to push back and rebel: it's how they learn and transform into sturdy humans in the end. And when we merge our unconditional love with our uncompromising expectations for our kids, we provide them a gift beyond measure. Study humans are the byproduct of sturdy parenting and sturdy schooling. It isn't easy; but it's the right work.