A recent United Nations Population Fund report stated, “The largest adolescent generation in all of history (i.e. 1.5 billion individuals) is coming of age. The most pressing global needs of this group include the promotion of gender equality and universal access to education, health services, and reproductive and sexual health information.” These social struggles play a significant role in the unrest of adolescents in our time. Add to these challenges the following universal factors, which influence the adolescent years:
- Sexually maturing bodies give rise to strong urges
- Figuring out and managing volatile and powerful emotions
- Fitting into a complex social network
- Dealing with immense peer pressure
- Dealing with wildly changing moods
- Deciding how to respond to the temptation of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
- Figuring out what their values are going to be
- Renegotiating relationships with their parents
- Getting through school
- Figuring out how to get enough sleep
- Beginning to plan their future
- Figuring out how to keep technology from crowding out everything else
These factors and more contribute to one of the most difficult times in human growth and development. Every adolescent is unique – and all deal with these challenges in varying ways. Trusted school leaders, marked by Compassion, understand that when they see a disruptive or rebellious child, there is always a story behind the student’s behavior. Most parents of adolescents know and recognize that “distance and explosiveness are often the only ways your adolescent knows how to communicate when things get intense, which of course only causes more conflict.” Therefore, when considering methods and philosophies for advocating for students as stakeholders, compassionate school leaders possess a broad and deep understanding of the unique challenges of what those adolescents are going through.
In decades past, the traditional model of controlling children espoused strict behavioral rules and expectations. Children were to be quiet, still, and passive; if not, they would be disciplined, even physically. For example, when I attended school in the 1960s and ‘70s, the spanking paddle hung in a very visible location by the teacher’s desk – a reminder of the punishment if I were not quiet, still, and passive. What research has shown us in the generations since, however, is that keeping children quiet, still, and passive is the most effective way to limit their learning, as well as their intellectual and emotional growth and stimulation. This failed model of control and punishment was based on a philosophical premise that teachers and administrators are in some way superior to the students in their care. School leaders, who possess high levels of trust, do not view themselves as lords over the student-body – but rather compassionate caretakers.
Unless we realize the entire premise of heavy-handed punitive discipline is based on our delusion of superiority over our children, the daily struggles with behavior that play out in our homes, in the classroom, on the playground, and in the conflicts of the wider world will continue unabated… The root of the dysfunction we experience as individuals, nations, and a world lies in the belief that people need to be controlled — a belief that, no matter which culture or part of the world we come from, pervades our parenting.
Compassionate school leaders know not to focus on controlling the child when it comes to student discipline within the school or home setting. Rather, compassionate leaders intentionally and purposefully utilize each disciplinary event as an occasion to provide the student with an opportunity of reflection on the relational consequences of their behavior, and this develops a higher level of trust.
©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.
 Kim Gale Dolgin, The Adolescent: Pearson New International Edition: Development, Relationships, and Culture (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2014), 18.
 David Walsh, Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (New York: Atria Books, 2007), 132-141, Kindle.
 Michael King, Communicating with Angry Adolescents: Tips for parents, teachers, counselors and coaches, (Seattle: Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2014), 45, Kindle.
 Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer, “Learning By Viewing Versus Learning By Doing: Evidence-based Guidelines For Principled Learning Environments,” Performance Improvement 47, no. 9 (2008): 5-13.
 Shefali Tsabary, Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work… and What Will (Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 2013), 395-401, Kindle.