Time in adolescence

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The relative nature of time does not receive enough attention. Time seems to go faster as we age. Most people will agree with this statement, adding to a large, swirling cauldron of anecdotal statements, all impossible to prove. Provable or not, though, we need to pay more attention to the stretchy minutes of time.

One reason adolescents often act as if they have forever may lay in this difference in perception between adults and adolescents. Adults are selling long-term, future plans to kids who are slouching in classrooms with no sense of immediacy, no sense that doors may close.

“I’ll do it later,” they say, confident that later will always be available. Doors move slowly in their lives. We exacerbate the problem by giving second, third, fourth etc. chances to students who stray academically or behaviorally.

Eduhonesty: One argument for stricter academic and behavioral policies is this: We need to slam doors in more faces. You did not do your homework? You fail. You started a fight? You are suspended. Do it again and you will be expelled. No third, fourth etc. chances. (I might give a nod to some second chances on a case-by-case basis.) If that sounds heartless, I believe it’s less heartless than leaving kids with the mistaken notion that they will be able to go through their personal doors whenever they feel like it. They won’t. They can’t.

Some good studies document the fact that the ability to learn a foreign language falls off a cliff toward the end of the teen years. Obviously war brides and others who are immersed or highly motivated have learned languages after that time, but true bilingual fluency may become effectively impossible for some.

The problem with all the revolving doors we create is that students don’t take us seriously after awhile. Many can’t understand our urgency because of their own sense that time is crawling by them. We have to convey the idea of closed doors somehow to kids who have been taught to believe that song, “There’s always tomorrow.” It’s a comforting song, a melodious idea that we can make our dreams come true later, supported by the long, lazy days of childhood and adolescence, as well as our generous habit of extending yet one more chance to those who make mistakes.

The song’s nothing but a pretty fiction, though. To put it more bluntly, the song’s a lie. There isn’t always tomorrow. If you screw up high school badly enough, you won’t get to be an undergraduate at Harvard or Princeton or even the University of Montana. You may not get to be an undergraduate anywhere. My student who is about to have her second child? She’s a lovely girl. I would not be surprised if she makes it to college eventually and succeeds in getting at least a practical two year degree. But she won’t do it in the near future. There’s no money and, more importantly, the poor girl’s absolutely exhausted. Her grades are taking a nosedive. I’m just hoping she makes it through high school.