I recall the opening gambit of a parent at parent-teacher conference, “X used to be good at maths until she came into your class”. The implication was clear, whatever the difficulties the student was facing, in the eyes of this parent, the teacher was to blame. On other occasions, I have heard teachers speculate on the extent to which parents should look to the deficiencies within their own parenting skills to see the reasons for their teenagers’ lack of progress.
The above are examples of what I call The Blame Game, within which parents and teachers blame each other for the lack of student progress. The Blame Game takes various forms and occurs on a daily basis in some school communities. Tragically, the only guaranteed outcome of the game is the one thing everyone says they do not want – the student loses out.
Even though some teenagers might try to deny it, the most significant adults in the life of a teenager are likely to be their parents and their teachers. These are the adults under whose jurisdiction they spend most of their time, so these are the adults, too, who have the greatest opportunity to exercise an influence on them as they journey through the formative teenage years. Also, whilst teenagers sometimes have the reputation of being in constant rebellion against parents and teachers, for many this is not the case and both parents and teachers figure prominently amongst those whose approval they seek to gain.
That having been said, however, there comes a time for many teenagers when they try to avoid responsibility or to shift the blame for their lack of progress in a particular area onto someone else. In such circumstances, The Blame Game gives the opportunity for the teenager to play parents and teachers off against each other. By feeding selective information to parent and/or teacher, the teenager can ensure that each party hears information that reinforces their presumption that the other party is to blame. Attention is thereby diverted away from the issues the teenager may need to address. Whilst the teenager may feel that as a result they have “won” the situation, in reality they have “lost”. Until parent and teacher can find a way to break out of The Blame Game, the teenager is less likely to come under pressure to address whatever is impeding progress, and so less likely to make progress as a result.
I believe the model we should all be working towards is that of parents, teachers and student working cooperatively with the goal of enabling the teenager to make the best progress of which they are capable. It is with that in mind that I offer the following.
Tips for Parents
Examine your expectations honestly. Parents sometimes get drawn into playing The Blame Game because their expectations are unrealistic. Of course parents want the best for their children, but the best is not necessarily the making of the child in the precise image of the parent. Parents who achieve highly in a particular field do not automatically produce children who are suited to becoming experts in the same field of specialisation. It will most likely be during the years of adolescence that the teenager will become aware if this is the case and it can lead to a high level of sadness for all involved if parents fight the realisation that their teenager wishes to move in a different direction than the one they (the parents) had hoped. Playing The Blame Game to avoid facing the issue will likely only compound the sadness if a teenager is forced in a particular direction at this crucial developmental stage of their life.
Recognise that both society and education have changed since you were a teenager. The rate of change in society has increased exponentially with the arrival of the digital age. In order to prepare teenagers for adult life in society, education has also had to change its approaches and emphases. When parents play The Blame Game, they often make unfavourable comparisons with the education they received when they were at school, not realising that in terms of education, they are years out of date. To put it bluntly, the fact that a parent once attended school does not make them an expert in education!
Listen carefully to what the teachers tell you about your teenager. Sometimes, the teenager at home and the same teenager at school would seem to any impartial observer to be two different people. If this is the case with your teenager, the person who can best bring it to your attention is the teacher, who sees them at school in a different environment from the one in which you see them. Many of us modify our behaviour to some degree depending on our surroundings, but sometimes, the difference is so marked that it is a sign of other issues that need to be addressed for the well-being of the teenager. Playing The Blame Game will prevent you from hearing what the teachers are saying and could block important information that you need to hear for your teenager’s sake.
Do all you can to cooperate with teachers. The vast majority of teachers, in my experience, are committed to their profession and care about the teenagers they teach. Despite having a difficult job to do, they care genuinely for the teenagers entrusted to them and seek the best for them. That accords exactly with what the vast majority of parents want for their teenage children and it is more likely to come about when parents and teachers work together.
Hold your teenager accountable for their own progress. Ultimately, the person who must take responsibility for your teenager’s progress is none other than your teenager. If parents play The Blame Game, they make it less likely that their teenagers will learn to take responsibility for their own progress and this is a vital life lesson.
Tips for Teachers
Listen carefully to what the parents tell you about their teenager. If the teenager at school is very different from the teenager at home, then the teacher needs to be aware of this as well as the parent. Sometimes, the best person to tell the teacher about it is the parent, who sees their teenager in a very different context than the one in which the teacher sees them. Playing The Blame Game will prevent you hearing what the parent is saying and may mean you miss an important pointer as to how your approach to this particular teenager could be modified for their benefit – and sometimes, even a small change of approach can make an enormous difference.
Keep your focus on the student and their progress, even if the occasional parent seems intent on playing The Blame Game. Whatever the drawbacks of being a teacher, when you are able to help teenagers move forward in their understanding of themselves and of your subject, it makes the struggle worthwhile.
Do all you can to cooperate with parents. Some parents, perhaps due to the intensity of their desire to see their teenagers succeed, come across as difficult, but the vast majority are not – they just want the best for their teenager. Ultimately, parents and teachers are on the same side and share the same goal of helping the student find success. Sometimes, the teacher is able to bring more objectivity to a situation than the parents of a student. Occasionally, a parent might ask for teachers to exceed the limits that their professionalism will allow and have to be refused. Generally, however, it remains true that teenagers are more likely to be helped towards finding success when teachers and parents work together to help bring it about.
Hold students accountable for their own progress. Ultimately, it is the student who must take responsibility for their progress. By maintaining your insistence on this point, you help teenagers learn a valuable life lesson. It is also one of the best defences against getting drawn into playing The Blame Game.