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Teaching teenagers

My business is one that accepts all people. I teach students that are 5 years to 70 years old. In that wide range, there are some categories. The young ones are from 5 to 10 or 11 years old. Then comes the teenagers. These are pupils that are between 11 or 12 years old to 19 or 20. After that, we have the young professionals. They are 20 to 29 years old. Sometimes going as old as 31 or 32 years old. Then comes the adults, 30 to 60. And then the veterans: 60 and up.

When I talk to other private teachers, this question is always present: which group is the most difficult to handle? And the answer is always the same: the teenagers. Oh, I could give you guys some red meat, and start listing all the reasons they tell me. But I do not feel the same.

Meaning, I don’t have a problem with teenagers. As a matter of fact, teenagers are some of my favorite students. I think I relate to them because I do not have all the answers in my teaching. The insecurities they might have, as they are discovering who they are, I can feel them myself. I need a healthy dose of confidence to be a private teacher, for sure, but I also need to keep my options open, to stay nimble and not confuse confidence with arrogance.  More than that, what helps me a lot, is to not have a cookie cutter way of teaching. I go a lot with how the student feels, the mood she’s in, the face she’s carrying.

The only problem I encounter more often with teenagers than any other group is trust. A few do not trust adults. They are so used to getting lectured all the time that I can see it is not worth it to tell them anything: they have heard it all. Their face closes up, their eyes become blank, and unfortunately sometimes, if pushed even a little, they lie. Now, don’t misunderstand me, they try, oh they try to have a conversation with you. But, in general, their mind is like a closed oyster.

This is a difficult situation, you might say. You might even see it as an impossible riddle.

I do not think so.

There are ways to gain someone’s trust, especially if you see them every week.  If I stay honest and direct, no baloney between us, we always end up accomplishing the work at hand. We can understand each other, we can communicate. My job is communication and trust, not much else. Mistrustful teenagers understand that better than others. I am not the messiah, but, honestly, if one tries to extend a friendly hand, rare are the people who will bite it. And that works with every body.

So, to the question, are teenagers particularly difficult? The answer is no. The same principles apply to them as it does to an eight years old or a 47 years old: try to walk a mile in their shoes. Once you understand someone, you can start to relate. And once you relate, you can start to communicate.

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