High School Students and Boundaries

My high school students don’t understand boundaries. The normal guidelines – recycling paper, returning dictionaries, taking turns – are followed, most of the time. They stumble over regular, unspoken guidelines. My analysis always turns into, why?

They are children.HS students and boundaries

Why can you have coffee in the classroom when we can’t?

High school students can be deceiving. They drive cars. They have sex. They have jobs. They spend money. They look like adults. But they are not.

Research and studies tell us that their brains are not fully developed. Some comments that challenge boundaries are from childhood naivety, a lack of experience experience. Science is telling us that this is combined – the underdeveloped frontal lobes we teachers studied in brain-based learning classes. The study fascinates teachers, but are parents and students onboard with the idea that this is science and not just a stage to be fixed – that it is part of brain development?

They explore boundaries.

I can wear this shirt – it follows the dress code.

Part of adolescents is finding your place, pushing boundaries. I did it in high school. Sometimes I got pushback and told to follow the rules. Other times I didn’t and got myself in messy situations.

Do all teachers and administrators give healthy boundaries? What does it tell students when we set a boundary, and fail to enforce it?

Society and parents tell them they are adults.

I pay union dues!

Many parents tell me that their teenagers are grown. That they treat them like adults. That teens can set their own curfews, create budgets, and make life decisions. They hold jobs and pay union dues, just like I do.

I personally have not parented teens. I can understand this approach though. Teenage years are difficult and parents are busy. They look like adults and some of them act more adultlike than others. Teens are still growing though and even if approaching teens as adults is easy, it is not correct. Parents may also be listening to messages from people with ulterior motives.

Marketers and advertisers devote time, research, and money to capturing teens. The easiest way to do this is to capitalize on what teens want: to be adult, to be respected.

If part of adolescents is pushing boundaries and parents and billboards encourage adulthood, why wouldn’t a teenager believe he is on equal footing with a teacher?

A combination: they believe they should not have these boundaries.

I am so tired of this s**t!

I have had too many students honestly believe that they are on equal footing with the teacher for me not to believe the boundary issue needs addressed.

No doubt, teens receive conflicting messages. Media targets them – frequently and with oodles of money. Parents are tired, stretched thin, and may believe that teenagers are indeed adults. Even educators are unaware of new research.

Where do these instances leave teachers? Aside from confused, some steps have helped me in my classroom full of teenagers.

1. Share stories from my teenage years. I did plenty of nonsensical (albeit embarrassing) mistakes as a teenager. When I share a clean and classroom appropriate example, I am met with understanding. Teens have empathy, and this shows them that I get it. I am not clueless about their lives that pull them every which way and send them confusing messages.

2. Teach science. Plenty of activities address this issue, and many are on TpT. In my ELA class, I can easily pull a science article and teach a nonfiction lesson.

3. Send home information. I send home blurbs and websites addressing new research on the teenage brain, specifically about teens and boundaries. Do all parents read these newsletter blurbs? No. A few do, and a few can start the change in beliefs about teens.

I have more questions than answers. Science is changing, teacher education programs are changing, and society will slowly follow. Setting and enforcing boundaries for teenagers is tricky.

It is easy to say have clear boundaries in the classroom, and teachers should; however, I think we would be remiss not to bring attention to these other issues surrounding teenagers and boundaries.

Teenagehood is a rough time and we should bring parents and society’s attention to the new science and struggles. Doing so should help future adolescents.


LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.
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