Several days ago the NYtimes published an op-ed: Let Kids Rule The School, about a group of teens in a school in Western Mass who were given the task of creating a school within a school. They designed curriculum, the structure of the school day, and methods of evaluation. The teens involved were students who were on the verge of dropping out as well as honor students. To say that they rose to the occasion would be an understatement. Not only was I blown away by their creativity, but also more importantly by their understanding of the learning process. Instinctively they knew that the curriculum needed not only be meaningful and interesting, but also that the process of learning, how they were to learn the material was of equal importance. Total engagement and immersion into each subject allowed them to fully integrate and find meaning in what they were learning. There was no just reading a chapter in a textbook and regurgitating back the information in a quiz. What impressed me most was the issue here of ownership. When students set their own goals, developed the method of how to reach them, and then demonstrated their mastery in a way that felt meaningful, learning became not just a means to an end like being graded, but instead, wow, this stuff is interesting and meaningful in my life. Here is the link:
This whole issue of ownership not only works in school, but easily translates to the family. Just telling your kids what to do works great when they are young, but as teens they are born to argue. They love to tell you something is stupid, your rules, school, cleaning their room, etc. As adolescents they are driven to make sense of their own life. This is why these students were so successful in their school. Ok, so school is stupid, go ahead and make it better. And guess what they did! You might try this with your teen, rather than just making the rules, and watching helplessly by as they flaunt them, manipulate their way out of them or avoid them, engage them in the process of making them. Unless your teens feel an ownership and stake in their lives, they will naturally try to take it from you anyway.
This taking ownership does in no way mean abdication. These students weren't given the choice to go to school or not, just how to do it. You aren't giving your kids a choice about doing their homework or not, or staying out all night without a curfew, or "you don't have to do anything you don't want to do, but instead: You will need to be home sometime, what do you think about what time?, or You need to get your homework done, how best do you think you can do it? or we are a family here and all have to pitch in, how do you think you can be helpful? You are giving your teens the opportunity to set goals, develop a plan to execute, and a method of evaluation just like these students did in their "school". Give your teens the opportunity to rise the occasion!