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The topic on this week's Behind the classroom door from northern Illinois University's College of Education is understanding the adolescent. Here's the model writer Dean Robert after top Well understanding the adolescent today seems to be everybody's problem including one adolescent trying to understand other adolescents and we parents and older people have tended to condemn. I think adolescents too much. I've heard parents say I wish I could put my teenagers in cold storage and unfreeze them when they're about 19 years of age and send them off to college you know of course we're always critical of the teenage driver. We see an adolescent boy behind the wheel of a car and doing something wrong perhaps and we know this. Make a little memory tabulation and generalize that the teenage drivers a poor driver. It's strange that parents and teachers have this attitude towards adolescence when each of us and I. Every
parent every teacher passes through the stage of growth. We forget it so quickly don't we. Dr. Laughlin somehow or other those adolescent years which are a kind of a confused period in our lives anyway are forgotten and some have said that these aren't adolescents that are causing the parents problems. It's parents who are causing the adolescents problems simply because the parents are impatient and don't understand the period of time that the adolescent is going through. I think it's understandable that the parent has been accustomed to this young child as a dependent member of the family and then all of a sudden the child begins to assert himself he begins to want to become an independent person he's becoming an adult. And so he's being restricted and limited by his parents and there's no question.
Dr Leonard But what this is a period of turmoil for the adolescent he's going through a sexual awakening he's becoming interested in the opposite sex in his own appearance and becoming utterly self-conscious about everything within himself all of his feelings in his appearance. You know it's interesting that the only term for schizophrenia which is psychosis is serious insanity even in legal terminology was called first dementia praecox which meant early loss of control of one's mind because they thought it developed during adolescence all actually dementia praecox or schizophrenia tends to have its greatest incidence in the middle 30s. But because of the confusion the problems but adjustment of young people during those years this term was given to it mistakenly Of course it would be helpful if parents would remember that adolescence as a stage and has a beginning and end has an end.
I think most parents and teachers too are greatly concerned because they think that this is typical behavior that's going to last the rest of the individual's life. They wonder if it is. This is going to come to an end one that after the child passes through this stage of growth he'll be as normal usual Pozen self again. When you're speaking with the voice of experience I'm sure the children that you have had. And Dr. Laughlin and raced successfully. I think that we do recognize this is a learning stage actually. Your child is learning how to assume and sexuality and how to adjust to the opposite sex. And he's visualizing himself as married to one of these individuals. And so it becomes very important to them. Well this period of adolescence is absolutely necessary and essential to the development of a wholesome individual. It is in this period of time that the boy and girl
must become independent. By the time he reaches age 18 leaves home and goes away to college. And this is being able to get along on his own independently. He must no longer be tied to his father or his mother. Let's go and if he is tied let's say to his father and mother and isn't allowed to develop the independence that he needs at that time this may have drastic results later on in his life he for example he may have a very difficult time adjusting to a marriage to a marriage or even getting away to school or out of adjusting to teachers and surely difficulty adjusting to military life if this is necessary. You know from the time the children are very young quite young they begin showing signs of this independence. Take an infant who has been watching mother tie a shoe
a number of times while he eventually reaches a stage where he doesn't want her to Ty's show anymore so he asserts his independence and insists the mother allowed him to tie that shoe by him self. Well this is the beginning of independence. Of course it becomes much more drastic when a child reaches this age of adolescence. Of course it's complicated by the fact that subconsciously not a few parents mothers particularly want their children to remain dependent upon them. And so it was only with reluctance that they loosen the reins and let them expand their horizons and do things that they want to do but the parents think that they shouldn't do. I think every parent who starts to say no to an adolescent should think twice and ask Is this really injurious to him or is this part and parcel of what we want to happen. The expansion of his horizon and the development of investor individuality and independence. The same
time parental control is necessary for things that count. Another thing the I think we should keep in mind that the young and young boy or girl going into the adolescent period has many adjustments of his own to me and sometimes we forget about those we. For example this child has has the has to live and live in a role let's say that's been defined for him and interpreted for him by other adolescents by his own peers as well as the society in which he lives. We get so impatient when they want to wear their shirt tails out or to join some other fad that is standard for their peer group. When you have that peer group is more important to them than our own desires. I think we're considering now one of the great needs of the adolescent and that is the need for status he wants to feel important
and one of the ways of choosing this is to be in a group and know Chief some standing within that group. He wants to be recognized as a person who is worthwhile. And of course the problems of the adolescent are magnified many times by the nature of our particular culture as we know no studies of adolescents in the pure adolescent period and primitive cultures do not create the kinds of problems we have here for example. They are capable of reproducing yet let's say 13 to 15 years of age but they cannot hope to be married and supporting a family until what age I suppose 21 22 24 even later. Well it appears to me that that period is growing a
larger longer each with each generation. Now if a young man completes college and wants to attend graduate school comes some profession like the medical profession or legal profession. The time at which he can marry is postponed quite a bit longer. I'd like to turn for a moment to the problems of the adolescent in school we've been talking here about problems with the home and problems of the parents understanding these adolescents Now we also have similar problems in schools where you where the teachers must understand adolescence too. Well I think some of the same problems that face the parents are also confronting the teacher. For example the the teacher too would probably like to retain control of this individual to make all of his assignments to make all of the decisions in the classroom whereas the
the adolescent knows and feels that he is capable of making some of these decisions in the classroom himself. I know it's part of the teacher training program we make a deliberate attempt to acquaint prospective teachers with the characteristics of the adolescent and I think that's a very important because if you've ever been a teacher in a school or principal of a school you've readily recognized a teacher who is not prepared to recognize to to cope with the different characteristics of children of different ages. I'm thinking right now of for example the sixth grade teacher who doesn't really understand this beginning of the adolescent period because I think at the sixth grade level you really see the the beginning of children going into adolescence. You see the girls change so rapidly let's say from September to until
June for example the games that they want to play and the other interests that they have in the fall of the year are many times far different from from their interest in the spring of the year. There's very striking military wonderful young men that. Now they are preparing for adulthood in the wide range of individual differences. Dr. Leonard you you know there there are girls that are pubertal in fourth grade and then there are boys who are just entering puberty had say 16 17 years of age and how this affects other things like their height at the junior high school level the boys are likely to be much shorter than the girls and the girls are interested in social dancing and the girl and the boys are just embarrassed by social dancing. So the problems are tremendous in the teachers and their principals and of course parents want to understand the power and complexities of these problems that if
you walk into almost any sixth grade classroom or seventh grade classroom and among say 30 students you'll find a regular stepladder in there in terms of height in terms of also differences in weight differences in appearance. And then a boy I say who is slow maturing sexually and physically in general who is a foot and a half shorter than some other boys. This has to be clarified for him this had to be told him that he's going to go into this spurt this growth spurt a little later may end up taller although generally speaking this isn't the case but still the differences will diminish remarkably. That sixth grade girl and who is an adolescent is faced with problems that definitely are are not present in the other 6 grade children. She is more mature or she's taller or She's heavier. But most important
of all she has a different interests. She's interested in things that are different from from her classmates mostly boyish. And I think you know I think that calls for a great deal of understanding on the part of the classroom teacher. I've always been impressed by the fact that where there happened to be a school adjacent to a university that it was very easy to confuse sixth or seventh grade girls with college girls. Because the sixth and seventh grade girls have approached their maximum height and they sometimes emulate the college girls in dress but you don't make this. You don't get confused this way about sixth and seventh grade boys in college boys largely because of the sex difference and maturation. Well and some I'm thinking back now in some cases you do where a child or a boy I say had been retained a couple of years. Whenever you find 13 or 14 year old boy in sixth grade then you
may run into these differences and you do find those occasionally in school. It would be so much easier when a doctor of mine are deaf all children boys and girls achieve puberty and adolescence at exactly the same time. Well I've had an idea. Dr. Laughlin left and hasn't received much favor among mothers but I have felt that we would reduce the span of individual differences among boys and girls if we would let boys enter school one year later than girls. The mothers weren't particularly happy about this idea because they didn't want the boy hanging around the home another year. The fact of the matter is mores would achieve better in this span this adjustment problem would be reduced if boys entered school at say 6 years of girl age and girls entered schools five. I think one of the things that we should mention here and I think it is matter that causes many of the adolescent problems and that is this
desire for status on the part of the adolescent. We know that it's during the adolescent period that many boys begin smoking. Usually it's it's the effect of being in a peer group. Other boys smoke. This boy wants to gain status in the group. So he begins smoking even if it makes him sick the first few times. And that's and that is a serious problem because we know that the peer group is important and we know that the peer group does a lot for these boys for the boys and girls. On the other hand it can have the opposite effect too in other words if a boy or girl gets in with the wrong peer group it can lead to problems. You know I think one of the mistakes that parents make here is. It is ceasing to be interested in their children during adolescence. It's remarkable that PTA attendance in the early grades by parents
is very good but it tapers off as in as soon as they go the children go into junior high school with a parents seem to be disinclined to involve themselves with children's problems or summer Hap's that's why the peer group takes on such an importance with children of this age it's one way in which they can gain the status which they're not getting at home and they can talk about things perhaps that they don't feel free to talk with their parents about. Well one reason why parents lose interest after the child gets to be and and at the adolescent age is because the child doesn't want the parent shadowing over him all the time he wants to be independent where a little child. In kindergarden our first graders second graders third that child wants his mother to come to school and I despotic on school you know isn't that a remarkable change he says. Dr. Leonard I can recall in the case of my own children and when I was in elementary principle that children just begged their parents to come to school up through about the third
grade. And parents who didn't do so were really kind of neglecting something important in the lives of their children. And in about fourth grade there's an awakening that children start to question and parents a little more particularly the boys don't want the parents to come to school and then at the junior high level you find the if the adolescent is putting on a performance with others singing or playing an instrument or putting on a play he wants his parents to be in the audience he may not urge them he may appear to be cynical about this but he really wants and needs his parents there and I think parents should appreciate this. I'd like to turn for a few minutes to a discussion on the different factors that are related to the family and how these influenced the life of the adolescent. I'm thinking in such terms such things as the social economic status of the home the type of home the child is living in.
The number of children in the family let's. Relating this to make a big difference doesn't it. To the adolescent Yes yes it does. And of course the child that is in a family with the other older brothers and sisters I think generally speaking moves into adolescence quite easily. He has witnessed the problems and he's witnessed the conflicts and understands this a little better. I think this this position in the family of being the first adolescent in the home to commodify at home is a terrific challenge for anybody watching and parents. It's a new experience for the parents and it's a new experience in the family and the adolescent has a desire to let's say to dominate at times they want to revert back to their childhood but as they're suddenly growing up. Becoming an adult they have a need there let's say to dominate in certain situations too and where they have younger brothers and sisters. You mean you observe this
domination that takes place. This is adolescent independence and cynicism and so-called domination is sometimes a facade though. Back to Leonard I think that this is a kind of a whistling in the dark. They're really feeling quite fearful about life in themselves and their adjustment to other people and marriage and making a living. And so there you have a bravado about them that is not very deep and it's only when your adolescent becomes ill and he's home in bed and really sick and you realize that he hasn't grown up he is an independent. He still depends on mother particularly. Oh yes and as I said before they they like to revert back to childhood as some adults I think on occasion like to revert back to childhood. And this is something that we need and we need to understand about them. I mean I know a lot of times you know the arguments in the family between the parent
and the adolescent. And I think the parent needs needs to understand that that person is just asserting himself. But the one thing that of course that I have observed and that is that many times this young adolescent wants to be a young adult but he doesn't have. He may have the the. Mental ability and he may have the energy and so forth that he doesn't. Many times he lacks the judgment that an adult might have in a situation because he hasn't had the experience to to develop that oh and then there are some other basic differences the adult is more conservative. Some of us are reactionary. And here is a young person with ideas and hope. And this is why can't it be done. I'm going to try it. And somebody made the point that this is why younger men make better soldiers. They're daring they're courageous and they don't have the fears built up around them. That is characteristic of the adult.
And of course it is a source of conflict. There's no question about that. I think we need to keep in mind too that adolescence is a time of social expansion and social development. And that becomes a real problem for many boys and girls. And particular I think problem for those that are developing That's our early developers as versus earlier early developers and parents should be sensitive to what appeared to be whims of the adolescent with regard to dress. The girl doesn't want to dress that is that the mother thinks is perfectly acceptable or the girl wants to comb her hair in a certain way where the boy wants to wear a certain kind of jeans. These are just seem ridiculous and from any objective point of view perhaps are from the point of view of the adolescent these are an important piece trying to find him south.
I might add to that Dean top of the adolescent girl who wants to wear her first high heeled shoes. That's also quite a shock to parents of an adolescent girl when she begins using cosmetics and begins to take on the ways of of adult women. But much of this is due to the influence of the peer group. There comes a time and it's a shock to the parents when status and the peer group may be more important than status in the family. Oh I think when the eyes are the status in the eyes of the teachers. Oh very definitely that another way friendship is very important to the adolescent and because it helps him to to feel more secure. It helps him to feel that he's a member of the group and he belongs to the group. You know there are a few areas where conflict between parents and adolescents seem to stand out. I think of the telephone. I often wondered what
adolescents did before the invention of the telephone. But in the typical home where there is one or more adolescent you the telephone belongs to them and they can talk for hours unless you put some kind of a limitation on this and this bothers the parents and they don't understand that this again is part of the learning process. They're learning how to understand each other and then the thing that I think has bothered more parents than anything else is that stage when the very young adolescent all of the sudden think she can be very critical of his parents. He criticizes the way they talk the way they dress and the way they drive their automobiles. And this criticism is incessant and of course if parents can't understand this they think that this sweet child that they had a few years ago was suddenly turned into some kind of a monster. Well I think you need to understand that intellectually this child is approaching probably the highest point of his potentiality in terms of mental power and ability and
he just can't accept that or can't realize that all in him from the child's point of view he is really seeing the mistakes that we adults can make. He can see how some of the positions we take are wrong and are merely habit or a hangover from previous days. And this irritates him and of course he has the idealism of youth he thinks he can do anything and that he and his parents should be able to do anything. I think that parents must realize that this desire for independence on the part of their adolescence is a natural thing. It's a characteristic which should be expected and rather than be concerned about this feeling about adolescence and independence and might be helpful if parents would realise that this is something good it's natural and if it wasn't present then they'd really have something to be concerned with.
Right and occasionally you'll find that adolescent that doesn't fit into his peer group. He's that one that just doesn't seem to get along. And I think we have to remember that the adolescent who is self centered is going to find it very difficult to get along in a peer group. Perhaps a lot of the problem with regard to adolescence adjustment to this period in life and maturation is is that the fall is the fault of the parents and perhaps the teachers and that somehow or other they lose contact they lose touch. Now it's not entirely the parents fault I'm sure that children up to a certain age come home and they bubble over about what's going on in school. They talk and they exchange ideas and it is interesting to the parents to hear of all the things that are going on at school and along the way they tend to clam up. They tend to start to keep things to themselves. Of course it's a little bit unnatural because what you brought out before that they're identifying with their peers and they're
talking about things that are to bloom perhaps at home. Because the parents have been perhaps on a narrow order not understanding about sex matters but it seems to me that if parents are good continuously relate to their children and be interested in them during these early or early years that this would be important as they moved into the adolescent period. Well if parents don't do anything else I think if they will keep in mind that that they need to aid their adolescent in the emancipation process and help him achieve the independence that he needs in the self-reliance that he needs and one other thing and that is keep in mind that conformity to peer mores is probably one of the cardinal principles of the typical adolescence life. Yeah the adolescent wants to take on additional responsibilities that are in line with his increased abilities and maturity. But
you know our homes are organized in such a way these days that it is difficult to find tasks that an adolescent can assume as they did in previous generations. And I think all of this leads to the to the increased problem that we have with our adolescents these days. Well there's no doubt but what in our culture adolescence is a difficult period. It's more difficult for the children than for the parents is probably the problems are caused largely by misunderstanding on the part of both parties. And the closer the parents can be to their children along the way continuously and the more frankly and honestly parents can approach their children throughout these development years developmental years the better off the child will be. And as he moves into maturity behind the classroom door produced by W when are you in cooperation with the College of Education at Northern Illinois University each week focuses its attention on one of the many
challenging aspects of public school education. The program is moderated by Dr. Robert F. top date of the College of Education at Northern Eldar University. Today's guests were Dr. Leo Laughlin head of the Department of Administration and services. And Dr. Lloyd Leonard head of the department of elementary education. Next week's topic will be why teachers strike this program is distributed by the national educational radio network.
Behind the Classroom Door
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Behind the Classroom Door is a radio series from WNIU-FM about education in the United States. In each episode, faculty from the Northern Illinois University College of Education address specific issues related to public school education and operation. The program is produced in cooperation with Northern Illinois University and distributed by the National Educational Radio Network.
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Chicago: “Behind the Classroom Door; 15,” 1969-03-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 20, 2024,
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