A few weeks ago I connected with another mom who is also helping parents to have the tools they need to raise their kids in the digital age! Her name is Chelsea Brown and she runs themomlifecoach.com.
As Chelsea and I FaceTimed :), she mentioned that she and her husband have taught the teenagers at church for the past few years. She talked about what a positive experience it has been. I was surprised as I know that many teachers find it really challenging to connect with teens due to the interference of technology. I asked Chelsea if she could share her tips and has given us permission to repost them here.
I especially like the rules she and her husband used to create a safe place for the teens to be. I hope they help you as a parent, a volunteer, or as a teacher!
Set Realistic Expectations
The first thing my husband and I did was to set some realistic expectations with the kids. We obviously weren’t their parents so setting rules that required them to “lose” their phones weren’t exactly practical. We also didn’t want the kids to dread going to our class like we did when we were their ages. So instead of focusing on what we didn’t want them to do, we made our rules all about what we wanted them to feel and the environment we wanted them to have when coming to our class.
We looked at what our teachers we loved did to make their classes inviting. For us, they were a positive and safe environment for us to hang out, learn and talk. This was a key part of what we wanted to create in our classroom. We also remembered that our favorite teachers were our favorites because they listened to us and took a general interest in us, outside of their classroom. It also helped that our teachers didn’t just lecture us when we misbehaved. When we misbehaved our teachers called us out on how they expected us to act in a loving and joking manner. They would even ignore our bad behavior and praise the students who were behaving well right in front of us. We choose to duplicate this with our teens.
Keep It Simple
For us, the main thing we wanted for our kids was for them to feel safe and like our classroom was a refuge from the things they were going through; a place where they could feel safe asking questions, talking to us, and helping us teach them about life. We decided that a long list of rules wasn’t going to help create that environment for us. My husband and I also decided we weren’t going to focus on their bad behaviors either. We expected that they would pull out their phones and just ignore us if we gave them complex rules, so we chose to keep it simple and minimize the rules. For our classes, 4 rules was the magic number. Short, sweet, simple.
I also feel it important to note that we felt the need to mention punishments only once. As far as I recall, we never had to implement them. The kids responded well and even when we had them over for parties at our home a simple joke of, “We’re not going to have to put that phone in a locker, right?” had them putting their phones away of their own free will and choice. They genuinely loved talking to us, getting to know us, and having us genuinely care about their lives. We may not have been able to attend their events, sporting activities or help them with their homework, but we genuinely cared and always asked about their events. Acknowledging what was important to them was a huge thing.
Talk To The Teens
Another thing we did that I believe was a huge part of our success was talk over our expectations and class goals with them. My husband and I were straight up with these kids. We let them know that we didn’t want to discipline them, and if we had to we’d discipline them just like we did our kids—who were all under 4 at the time. We explained to them that we didn’t know how to discipline teenagers, so we’d just simply put them in timeout like our two year old if they misbehaved. They all laughed at that because can you realistically see me, putting a kid a good foot taller than me in timeout in the middle of a class? That would actually be pretty funny to watch. We also stressed our goals for the class above all else. Those became our “rules” that we governed them buy.
We also took it a step further to ask the kids what they wanted from us. For them, they wanted time to socialize with their friends since most of them were in separate schools and saw each other maybe twice a week. We agreed that we could arrange maybe 5-10 minutes each class where they could just talk after our lesson was completed. The faster the lesson was done, the more time they would have to talk. Participation wasn’t required, but came gradually the more we got to know them. We would occasionally have an entire class period where we would talk to them about what’s going on in their lives and share and teach them ways and things that would help out their situations.
A Fresh Start
The last thing, which was probably the most important thing for them, was openly declaring and treating each week with a clean slate. We were told many of the kids in our class were “hard”, “difficult”, “disruptive”, “irreverent”, and just “overly disrespectful”. They didn’t know anything about us and we didn’t know anything about them.We decided not to judge the kids based on what happened previously in other classes, or with other adults. Even when we had a hard time keeping the kids reverent or on task, we choose to only address it in that class. We tried very hard to forget their faults and mistakes from week to week. It wasn’t always an easy task for us, but for them it was vital to building a relationship with us. I believe this is why they kept coming back to our class, even after we weren’t their teachers anymore.
Our Rules We Used
I know some will want to know our rules. I’ll list them out below for you. I do want to make it clear, though, that they won’t work for everyone. It truly depends on the children in your class and their flow with you. One thing I know for sure is that kids respond 100% better when you’re rewarding them with things instead of taking things from them. We all respond better to rewards over punishments. So perhaps our greatest success was in rewarding those kids who behaved well in our class, not the rules.
- This is a Safe Place. Everyone here needs to feel safe at all times. This means kind words, low volumes, and sharing things that are uplifting, good report, praiseworthy and authentic.
- Be Reverent. If you don’t want to participate, that’s fine. Just be reverent. No loud noises, no giggling because of a funny text or message, and no cheering because of points earned on a video game. The more you participate and the faster we get through our lesson, the sooner you can visit.
- I Don’t Know is a perfectly acceptable answer. We don’t know everything and we don’t always remember everything. We don’t expect you to either.
- Show Up To Class. While you’re in our class we’re responsible for you. We don’t want you wondering the halls or getting into mischief. We want you to come to class so we know you are safe.
Rewards: Socializing Time & Parties At Our Home
Do What Works For You
Remember that these rules won’t work for everyone or every environment. If you’re a schoolteacher maybe they can earn free phone time after their work is completed. Or perhaps they need a secure place to charge their phone while in your classroom. Or maybe turning in their phone is how you mark them here.
For volunteer teachers, maybe the kids need shorter lessons that are driven by engagement learning. Their world is super fast paced and constantly in motion. Sitting still in a classroom, for even an hour, can be a seriously daunting task for them. If you can’t do this, ask them a question about how they would solve a problem you’re having. You can even related to your lesson. I did this on occasion with them. They would answer me and together we came up with solutions that were better than I had thought of. My point is, try it out and don’t expect lots. That’s the key to being successful. As my dear friend Ralphie says, “Water the flowers; not the weeds.”