Lessons From A 13-Year Old

By Edna Olive, RYI
Posted on October 30, 2013, in Challenging Kids

As a trainer and staff developer for the last 11 years, the majority of my work has been with adults. I have had the honor of traveling the world working with professionals who work in a variety of settings. My goal has been to support those adults in the direct work they do with pre-school children all the way through college-aged young adults. And while I spend lots of time with the children and young people in my personal life, I haven’t worked with young people on a day-to-day basis in a very long time. Until all that changed with an email.

I received a message from a colleague whose 13-year old 8th grade son was on the verge of being expelled from his school. Jerry* had received suspension, detentions, and frequent time-outs, none of which seemed to make a difference for or to him. His behavior had become so disruptive that the school had issued this ultimatum: If Jerry is involved in one more incident, he will be expelled. His mother contacted me to see if I could provide her with any guidance and if I could help Jerry in any way. She had tried therapy but with no results. She and her husband had tried talking to Jerry about the seriousness of the situation given that he was an 8th grader scheduled to graduate in a few months. This conversation seemed to have a short-term impact, she reported, but nothing lasted for long. The latest incident involved Jerry walking out of the school without permission and the ultimatum had quickly followed. Jerry’s parents were worried that he wouldn’t graduate and according to them, Jerry appeared unfazed by it all. Was there anything I could do, she wanted to know immediately.

As a life coach, I know that if a person has no vision or connection to their purpose and goals in life, coaching doesn’t do much good. Based on her description of Jerry, and given that most 13 year-olds haven’t deeply connected to their bigger life purpose yet, I doubted if there was much I could do to support the situation in turning around. Yet I agreed to meet with Jerry and his parents to determine if I could be of any help at all. Little did I know that Jerry was about to remind me of some very important lessons; those that I had spent the last 11 years teaching others. Jerry would become living, breathing reminder that 13 or 30, we all have some commonalties when it comes to who we were and what we’re up to in our lives.

Meeting Jerry for the first time told me that he was smart, attractive, articulate and confident. That first meeting also told me that he was very clear about who he is and what he expected from others, no matter who they were. The reminder that adults had the authority in his life as a 13 year-old didn’t move him at all. As far as he was concerned, people should get what they give. And he was just the young man to give back what others dished out, even if they were the principal of his school.

I reluctantly signed on to coach Jerry weekly for one month to determine if any good could come out of such an arrangement. And the lessons (for me) began…. 

As a result of our weekly conversations, Jerry reminded me of the thousands of adults I have stood in front of attempting to teach them the very things that Jerry spoke about week after week. Instead of being the teacher, Jerry had turned me into the student. And I learned a great deal! Jerry reminded me that:

1. Children are very observant when it comes to seeing the truth of adults. Any discrepancies between what adults say and what they do are evident and they speak volumes. 

2. Children deserve our respect; if we expect to receive respect and honor from them, we must be willing to give what we want to receive. Nothing else makes sense.

3. Children (even 13 year olds!) are constantly thinking. Even if they chose to keep their thoughts to themselves, it doesn’t mean they are not always processing, analyzing, dissecting, and gathering information. Even though their brains are not yet fully developed, they are working all the time!

4. A life vision is not reserved for adults; children can connect with their vision and purpose when they are supported in doing so. Although the vision may change as they mature, a connection with who they are and what they want today can support them in being successful.

5. Even the most challenged and challenging young person wants to be loved, connected to others, successful, and self-sufficient (belonging, generosity, mastery, and independence).

At this moment, our goal is to ensure that Jerry makes it to graduation day in mid-June. He has already told me that while he finds our sessions helpful, he believes he’s ready to reduce the number of sessions that we have with the ultimate plan of ending our sessions so he can have a fun summer. (How’s that for a life vision?) I know that a year from now this may all be a distant memory for Jerry. He may recall how he spent several months talking to some woman about his behavior and how he was going to graduate from the 8th grade. Or he may never think about it at all.

As for me, I am forever changed because a 13-year old came into my life and reminded me of my life’s purpose and what’s really important to me.

Thanks, Jerry, for being my teacher.


*Jerry’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

About Edna Olive

Author of "Positive Behavior Facilitation" www.rocketinc.net Silver Spring, Maryland Read Edna Olive’s Bio

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