We Are Teaching Kids

In the month since I last blogged (yikes…it’s been a month!), I’ve had a chance to talk to several people who regularly read what I write.  One theme that has been brought up to me several times is my frequent use of the word “kids” as opposed to saying adolescents, young adults, students, or something similar.  While it may appear that many of those terms can be used interchangeably, I choose to use the word “kids” on purpose.

Let’s make one quick assumption about high school students.  For the most part, students will enter the 9th grade as 15 year olds and graduate when they are 18.  We have a few students who live on either side of those numbers, but I’m hoping we can all agree that most of our high school students are enrolled from the ages of 15-18ish.

I’ll make a couple other broad assumptions, as well.  We use the term “young adult” as a way of saying that an adolescent is being prepared for adulthood in the very near future.  Further, I’m hoping that we can agree that “adulthood” is typically characterized by one or more of the following big events: a “real” job, independent living, marriage, or parenthood.

With those assumptions, let me toss some stats at you (courtesy of the US Census and the Pew Research Center).  In 1970, 29-30% of Americans aged 18-31 lived at home with their parents; the average age of a first time mother was roughly 21; and the average ages of someone being married for the first time were 23.2 for males and 20.8 for females.  By these numbers, we can safely say that there was a lot of pressure to have 18-19 year olds mentally and socially ready for the challenges of adulthood.  A high school student who graduated in the 1970s was, statistically, only about three years away from hitting some adult milestones.

Contrast that to those same statistics from 2010.  In 2010, 37-39% of Americans aged 18-31 lived at home with their parents; the average age of a first time mother was 25.1; and the average ages of someone being married for the first time was 28.2 for males and 26.1 for females.    By these numbers, a high school student who graduated in 2010 was still roughly six years from hitting those same milestones.

* Side note: all of this data continues on a smooth plane in both directions.  The farther back from 1970 you get, the younger these milestones were hit.  The assumption, then, is that the farther forward from 2010 we go, the later these milestones will occur.

So how do we use this data in our classrooms or on the courts/fields?  The benefits of high school athletics continue to be the character traits and values that we can effectively teach: perseverance, dedication, work ethic, accountability, etc. etc. etc.  The change that our teachers and coaches need to make is losing the assumption that most kids are close to learning and/or mastering these skills.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite now; many kids aren’t even presented an opportunity to learn these skills until they get to us.  What makes it tough for many teachers and coaches, however, is that it’s OK for students to just be learning these skills now since the statistics tell us that, on average, they won’t need these skills independently for several years.

That said, here are some of my suggestions for the teachers/coaches of our millennials:
–  Most of them won’t be mentally or socially mature enough to understand what you mean by accountability.  You’ll need to help teach them what it means to be accountable to peers, to bosses, and to themselves.
– Most of them will lack the autonomy to figure things out on their own.  You’ll need to help teach them how to problem solve and apply generic principles to specific problems.
– Most of them will interpret any form of criticism as a disappointment in them personally.  You’ll have to help teach them that criticism leads to growth and is not an indictment of them as a person.
– If you ever start a sentence with “When I was a kid” or “You kids these days,” you’re already in the wrong.  Regardless of whether you’re a 55 year old coach or a 22 year old coach, there is very little about your childhood that is the same as our “kids these days.”  Quit trying to compare them.
– Lastly, and most importantly, always TEACH TEACH TEACH.  As a teacher and a coach, you have them away from their parental/guardian support system (for many of them, this is for the first time!).  Don’t be afraid to challenge them, then challenge them harder, then challenge them more.  When you do this, you have to be prepared to deal with their inevitable failures as teachable moments, and you have to be prepared to show them that their inevitable successes were not accidental.

My overall thought is that we are no longer teaching and coaching young adults; we are now teaching and coaching kids to become young adults.  You may not like that “kids these days” have a different environment than we had, but it’s the world that they live in.  Prepare the child for the path!

What did I get right?  What did I get wrong?  Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Opinions?  Let me know via Facebook, Twitter, email, or the comment box!

2 Responses

  1. Mike Carter

    I think this is great information. Based on the title, I thought this post was going in a different direction! As youth sports coaches, I think it is very important to teach the athlete first, then the sport. To me, that means that we need to be extremely attentive to the kids (adults too actually) and be “artistic” enough with our coaching methodologies to adjust our games, activities, drills to suit the specific needs of the individual.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Absolutely! We try to keep our department goals in mind throughout our programs. Are we trying to win games? Of course, but we’re also trying to teach the kids a whole lot more than that. Thank you for the feedback!

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