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  • Therese

Teens off the rails

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

I have a 14 year old son who has been in detention at school so many times that I’ve stopped counting. He’s a very intelligent boy but he hates school (the rules, the discipline, the exams, the “do as you’re told and shut up” and the “one-size fits all” culture). He was labelled a naughty and difficult child at primary school and then when he started secondary school the Principal told us that he had never seen a report as bad as his. We changed schools since then but it hasn’t made much of a difference. We’ve tried everything but nothing works, he does suffer and we suffer because we don’t know if he is the problem or is it the school system?


Oh that sounds soooo familiar…


Don’t think you or your teen are special...there are more and more people having this experience of school. It is the “why are we learning this?” asked by teens since the beginning of time...but on steroids.


I read an article this morning about Auckland and how the population IS going to grow, the council has two choices, 1 - do nothing about the infrastructure or 2 - do something about the infrastructure. The first isn’t an option. I mention this because it appears that in education, doing nothing has been an option...The world our kids are growing up in has changed at an extraordinary rate, school hasn’t.

Mr 13 completed a math assignment, result = 1/26. In his assignment, Mr 13, the saboteur was asked, “what does this graph teach you about this and that” his answer, “nothing, like school” Then “how would you do such and such with this graph?” he answered “like a bomb”! I am not encouraging a lack of respect, I am not thrilled that Mr 13 is giving these answers. But I am less thrilled that the teacher is setting this work for him. I am even LESS thrilled that the response is RE-DO! Mr 13 is telling the teacher, “I don’t see the point, I have already done this, this is a waste of my time.” “RE-DO” is antagonistic to a modern teen.


I know that more and more of my colleagues want change and small steps are being made. At primary school they make tasks important by giving students no choice but to complete them using ultimatums. Mr 13 began learning that tasks are not negotiable at 6 years old, he is still learning. At secondary school they decide how successful your schooling has been by giving you a result. This is how the education system makes school work or LEARNING for our modern teens important, as they say, “WT actual F”.


Whether children are in primary or secondary school, student behaviour is trying to tell us something. When schools give disruptive students a voice, the disruptors will lead the innovation that is so desperately needed in our education system.


So is it your son, or is it the system? You raise an important point. The world is changing and is doing so at lightning speed but the school system is not agile enough to keep up. We need to change an outdated education system FAST before more children are lost to anxiety and depression.


When Mr 13 began school I trusted the system and I would “side” with the school. It dawned on me when my son said “it’s like they are trying to start a fight with me Mum”, articulating it beautifully, (or I couldn’t have said it better myself) With all the best intentions, the system intimidates those who are aware that tasks set have no purpose and antagonises those who are stubborn enough to challenge them. In this teen phase of pimples and parties, it can feel hopeless when you are disenfranchised and misunderstood. Until the education system catches up, our disruptive children need someone to listen and someone to explain to them that it is the system that is broken and not them. It is my job as a parent to encourage my son to “behave in a responsible and respectful manner because that is what our family values” and I celebrate the weeks that he doesn’t have a detention.


Because these important 13 years is a long time for a child to be unhappy at school.

Therese is from a large family with three children of her own. Mr 26, Miss 24 and Master 15. As an educator with many years of experience, she has collected plenty of stories, she uses these and family tales to inform her teaching practice.


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