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Teaching Accountability

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When the research came out a few years ago showing that the adolescent brain is still under development into their early 20s, most high school teachers weren’t surprised. Many of us were relieved, as it helped us understand some of the strange behaviors and choices we would witness in many of our students. It’s actually biological: their sense of right and wrong, their understanding of appropriate boundaries, their sense of how to determine if a situation is safe or unsafe – these are all skills that are not yet honed in teenagers. I think we often make a mistake of thinking about teenagers as young adults. The truth is they are not. We expect them to act more maturely, make more reasonable decisions, take responsibility for their behavior and choices. Again, most of them cannot because they haven’t developed those skills. Once again, the task of teaching accountability and responsibility lands on our shoulders. Here are some suggestion: •Start with the assumption that they are not yet finished developing; they are still “toddlers” when it comes to making good decisions and determining their own safety. When our kids first learn to walk, we don’t let them walk around without us. We stay with them and we limit the places and distances where they walk. •Don’t fall for statements like, “Everyone else is….” First, it’s probably not true, and second, it doesn’t justify bad choices. Let them know what choices you are making for them and why. •Keep the lines of communication open at all times. Listen to their wishes, requests, concerns. But your are still the decision-maker; not them. You are the parent. You have years and years of experience and understanding and wisdom. You know what dangers exist in this world. •From the time they are little, make it safe for them to tell the truth. •Expect your teens to make bad choices, to show bad judgment from time to time. And be prepared to levy consequences. We become accountable when we are held accountable. •Be on top of things. Call other parents to confirm plans. Follow your kids to the mall or the movies. Drop in at school. Know where they are, who they are with, what they are doing. It is your job to stay at least one step ahead of them. •Finally, and I’ve said this before, you cannot believe what they are telling you. I’m not saying they are pathological liars. I am saying they will do what’s expedient and easy and what they think will keep them out of trouble. In this past week, I have heard some crazy stories from parents about what they are being told by their kids – and the parents accept these anecdotes without question. Remember, they are what we teach, so if we want our kids to be accountable, we have to set that example for them…”own up” to our mistakes and bad decisions. More importantly, we share what we learn from them.

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