Dr Steve Sims
For the past 40 years or so, and in a variety of roles, I have engaged with teenagers. As the principal of an international school, parent, teacher, minister and youth worker, I have witnessed, walked alongside, encouraged, instructed, supported and advised young people during their journey from childhood to the adult world. I have also had many conversations with the significant adults in the lives of those teenagers.
I have frequently been impressed at the capacity of the teenagers I have known to affect those around them positively and to change the world for good. I have been astonished by the lengths to which some teenagers have been prepared to go to bring about the changes they desired to see to the world around them. I have been amazed by the commitment they have demonstrated to their friends and families, and to the causes in which they believed.
I have also seen the battles in which some teenagers engage with those close to them, and the heartache they cause (often unwittingly) for those who care genuinely about them. I have seen the effects of peer pressure, cyber-bullying, alcohol and drug-taking on teenagers and their families. I have seen teenagers suffer pain and loss, experience anguish, heartbreak and self-doubt.
Alongside the enormous pride of many, I have seen the agony of parents who do not understand their teenage sons and daughters and some of the hurtful things they say and do. I have seen the frustration of parents who genuinely care and who want to help find the best solution to difficulties, but who do not seem to know how even to begin to go about it. I have seen the heartache of parents who are aware of damaged relationships with their own children, but who feel powerless to begin to address and rebuild those relationships.
I have worked with many teachers, the vast majority of whom have given far in excess of any reasonable expectation to help their students find success. But I have also seen disillusionment when teachers feel unsupported, incredulity in the face of unreasonable parental behaviour and expectations, and disabling powerlessness when confronted with the occasional student who seems intent on defying any and every attempt to help.
Many of the problems I have witnessed came about due to a lack of understanding on the part of the teenagers, the parents or the teachers concerning the real nature of the roles of the other groups. Frequently compounded by poor communication, such misunderstandings can lead to ridiculous expectations, impossible demands and, ultimately, unhappy teenagers, unhappy parents, and unhappy teachers!
My experience has made me cautious of offering neatly packaged answers to those caught up in difficult situations, not least because I believe they can often mislead and damage. What I have frequently seen to be of help, however, is the critical friend: one who can ask questions to provoke reflection and who can act as a sounding board for good ways forward. Through this blog, that is what I shall try to be and do. I invite you to be an active reader, to share your reflections, so that I and others might benefit and grow with you in our understanding of teenagers on their journey to adulthood.