Have a Problem? Need a Solution? Ask a Teenager!

So often we look at teenagers as a problem to be solved.

So often we look at teenagers as a problem to be solved.Click To Tweet

We look at their behavior and think,

“What do we need to do to change that?”

Parents, teachers, and school administrators too often miss opportunities to engage solutions with kids. And that’s a damn shame because kids:

  • Know what they and other kids want and need
  • Know what motivates them and their peers
  • Are highly energetic and creative thinkers
  • Don’t like being treated as problems to be solved anymore than adults do

Of course, adults need to have the last word, but by empowering our talented teens, they become invested in the solutions to problems.

Let’s take a look at some of the problems that school administrators face:

  • Litter and garbage around the campus
  • Graffiti
  • Race relations among kids
  • Substance abuse taking place on, around, and off campus
  • Bullying…

…to name a few.

I guarantee you that any top down imposed rule and sanction will have a minimal short-lived impact on these problems, if any.

On the other hand — if school administrators reach out to kids — they can engage a healthy process and dialogue whereby problems can be…

  • identified,
  • goals established,
  • plans made and executed against,
  • and finally, results measured and plans revised.

All with the engagement of the students, and tapping into their motivation and talent.

Let’s see how Principal Gutierrez put her belief in the capability of youth to work at Westside High School.

Getting Students Involved the Right Way

Lisa Gutierrez was hired as the new principal of Westside High, a school with all the problems named above and low academic performance by most measures.

The school was located in a working class town and the ethnic population of the school was mixed primarily between Caucasian and Latino youth with some African American and Asian youth, as well.

Ms. Gutierrez was told by many of the teachers and staff that the kids at that school simply weren’t motivated and their parents didn’t really support education.

The staff knew that their new principal had high aspirations for the school, and they were happy about her positive energy, but they felt obligated to help her get more realistic about her expectations for this group.

It just so happened that Ms. Gutierrez had grown up in a similar town with a similar high school and she believed deeply that if the kids she had gone to school with had been treated as intelligent and capable young people, they would have performed up to high expectations.

She grew up watching the students in her school being treated like problems to be solved and the school seemed more interested in punishing, suspending and expelling kids, than engaging and educating them.

Wisely, Ms. Gutierrez spent the first two months in her new position talking, listening and observing.

She met with faculty and staff, students, parents, as well as community partners and law enforcement.

At the end of her get acquainted time, she assembled the student Leadership Team and told them that she needed them to be instrumental in turning the school into a model high-performing high school.

The first thing she had the Leadership Team do was to recruit new members, so that the Leadership Team more accurately represented the demographic of the school.

Then she met with the team and they made of a list of the school’s issues that needed to be addressed.

After compiling a pretty long list, the group decided that the littered, dirty appearance of the school was bad for morale and they would start there.

Principal Gutierrez coached the Leadership Team in learning group facilitation skills and stayed pretty much out of the discussions.

After a few meetings, polling the student body on several issues, and deciding on goals and plans, as well as a few months of implementation, here is what happened:

  1. The parent counsel purchased new outside trashcans that were strategically located where they were most needed.
  2. Students in the art classes uniquely painted each trashcan. The art represented all the various sports, clubs, activities and subjects taught at the school.
  3. Each club and sport signed up for one day a month to pick up trash after lunch each day.
  4. Several parents, in collaboration with a subcommittee of students, designed new attractive low maintenance landscaping.
  5. Over the course of two weekends, parents and kids installed the new plants and landscape features most of which were donated by local businesses.
  6. As a reward for a litter-free campus, the first Friday night of each month was outside movie night where a movie is projected on an outside wall and the entire student body is invited to the drug and alcohol free event.

Well, you can imagine that this had a great effect on the morale of the school from individual kids, to the community at large…

And with this great start, Ms. Gutierrez was able to facilitate a more positive discipline policy and ultimately — and most importantly — measurably improved student learning and performance outcomes.

Learning to Have Faith In Our Kids

From my earlier blog posts, you may know of my upcoming book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.

In today’s story, we can see how a school can actually engage in School-Teen Control Battle.

Principal Gutierrez inherited a school where the administration had viewed kids in a negative light and used punishment and sanctions to manage them.

In turn, the students viewed their school as a force to be resisted and they avoided responsibilities and acted destructively.

  • The worse the kids behaved, the more punitive the school became.
  • The more punitive the school became, the more irresponsibly and destructively the kids behaved.

So from Principal Gutierrez’s example, we can learn a couple of critical things.

When we see negative behaviors from our kids, it’s easy to be lulled into seeing them in a negative light and treating them as problems to be solved.

Yet when we have faith in them, and we empower these same kids to address serious issues and solve problems, they can do a fantastic job.

When we empower kids to address serious issues and solve problems, they can do a fantastic job.Click To Tweet

They’ll need our help, our resources, our guidance and support.

But when they’re engaged, empowered, listened to and respected, they can accomplish a ton.

What examples have you seen of empowered youth making a difference in your community?

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below:

Posted in Parenting.