Don’t Take Seriously the First Words Out of the Mouth of a Confused, Embarrassed, or Panicked Adolescent..advice from Fred Strong

Fred Strong (1)My next contributor was my first boss.  This person plays an extraordinarily important role in your life because they are the first person to evaluate your abilities outside of home, school or activities.  Looking, back, I was so lucky to have Fred Strong as my boss when he was the Middle School Head at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He know how to bring out the best in people.  He pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of and gave me opportunities that tested my self-imposed limits.  I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have used the lessons he taught he as a parent and employer.  Fred has years of experience working with adolescents, and the sincerity of this advice will show you why I cried the day I told him we were leaving Seattle for our next adventure. Thank-you, Fred, for being my best, first boss and a champion of middle schoolers.


That’s fundamental advice for teaching Middle School. Adolescents will say the craziest things at times. But actually, a “crazy” remark is pretty easy to spot; we smile at those and move on.

A kid saying something “outrageous” is a different matter, however. We adults are more likely to flip out and demand an explanation, elaboration, or apology.

Avoid being that adult. When something outrageous pops out of a kid’s mouth, pause and then ask a polite question. “Um, did you really mean to say ____?” or “Is that what you really believe?”

Your first step in that moment should be to offer a kid a chance to jump back out of whatever 50-foot hole they just dug themselves into. And offer a second or third chance, if necessary. That’s a humane response, and kids will appreciate and trust you for it. Which is not the same thing as giving a kid a chance to make up an excuse or a lie about something.

Just don’t overreact; adolescents often have no idea why something came out of their mouth in a moment of confusion, embarrassment, or panic.

Yes, someone did give me that advice when I was working with Middle Schoolers. But I actually knew it already, because I had personally experienced the flip side as a 7th grade kid. It went like this.

I was in a drama class and I was goofing off when I should have been paying attention. The teacher, quite reasonably, asked why I wasn’t paying attention. Well, I had no idea what to say. Plus, I was embarrassed.

So I rolled my eyes in front of her.

Bad idea.

The teacher flipped out and demanded to know why I was rolling my eyes. I had NO IDEA why I was doing what I was doing. And in my panic, I kept rolling my eyes even more. I wished I would stop but couldn’t really manage to make that happen.

When the show opened, I had one line: “Make way for the king.” I never took another theater class in all my school years.

That’s OK. I survived, and I have spent my career teaching middle and high schoolers. I love the crazy and outrageous stuff that comes out of their mouths. And I hope that my responses help them reduce that craziness over time. Give kids space to figure out themselves out, and they’ll figure themselves out.

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