Empowering Teens - School Is Not One Size Fits All

Empowering Teens - School Is Not One Size Fits All

In my community, we recently lost another teen to suicide. He was a successful, well liked kid from a great family.

We can only conjecture about what happens when a teen feels so overwhelmed that they take such drastic measures. We do the best we can as parents, friends and counselors to help kids through times that seem beyond what they can bear.

Do you know any teens who are less than thrilled about school? Sometimes, we are lucky and kids do tell us when they are unhappy. They may say it clearly or we may see it in the way they drag themselves through their week. Their eating habits or hygiene may change. They may have "health problems", anxiety or lethargy.

I became an expert on this topic when I was in high school myself. For me, school was a miserable five days between the weekends, when I got to see my friends in a neighboring town.

Back when I went to school my family had a "tough it out" attitude. If there were options, we didn't know about them.

Well, being a parent who believes in mutual respect and honest communication, this sort of bravery didn't work well for me. Thus began my role as a parent who suggested my son drop out of high school!

Yes, you heard me right. Don't delete this article yet, though.

I am a reputable therapist with Masters Degrees in Education and Counseling. I just knew and continue to trust that if a kid is miserable in school, there must be a way to help make things better for them.

For my oldest son, it was Unschooling. We undertook this courageous mode of schooling with a, now tattered, copy of "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewelyn. I am now embarking on a different version of independent learning for my younger son.

Each time it has been about honoring and guiding each teen toward finding meaningful ways of learning, appropriate programs and mentors, and support for doing things a little differently than their peers. It is all about raising happy, well educated, well adjusted kids. And isn't that what we wanted when we started out with these babes?

One of Llewelyn's main beliefs is that, given freedom to think for themselves, and time to recover from being constantly directed, teens will find (rediscover in some cases) their love for learning and the motivation to pursue their interests. As parents, we then support them by "doing with", researching, making opportunities available and being there when they want to talk or get some help.

This is not the best way for all kids, but it is a viable option. In my practice, I am graced with the opportunity to support teens and their parents in learning what options are available and how to pursue them. I help parents through the uncomfortable times when they mistrust their decision, or wonder if they are really helping their kids.

Here are some things to consider when exploring educational alternatives with your teen. Is your teen...

  • Learning Different (diagnosed or not)
  • Gifted in a particular area (academic or not)
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • In recovery from substance abuse
  • actively abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Socially motivated or socially isolated

These are just a few things to consider. In my community there are many options available through the school district for kids who need a change to their program. These include different career pathway options, independent study and concurrent enrollment at the junior college. There are also a variety of homeschooling options that don't require parents to be the teacher.

Additional support, in the form of educational information and facilitated family counseling sessions is often helpful and I have enjoyed helping families find what works best for their teen and for them.