This week, I received a post that Jennifer Satterwhite wrote called Parenting a teen and other things that make you stupid. “Catchy heading”, I said to myself, “It is about teens and it is close to my heart, so I went (well, I clicked a few clicks) to read it. It was very sad to read how terrible teens seem in some parents’ eyes. Parents interpreting everything their teens do as negative and disrespectful do not leave much room for the teen to grow and evolve.
The concept of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” states that everything you think, becomes your reality. Research on self-fulfilling prophecies showed that even professional people cannot overcome their perceptions. Psychiatrists admitted themselves into a metal institute and were diagnosed as mentally disturbed by other psychiatrists. Social workers, educators and psychologists were shown a video of a kid in a playground and had to write a report about him, given the description “Tim, parents divorced, one sibling, low academic achievement”. Another group of same professions was shown the same video but with a different description, “Sean, mum and dad living together, one sibling, high academic achievement”. Sure enough, the reports on Tim showed behaviour problems and the reports on Sean were pleasant and with no behaviour problems. Let me remind you it was the same video and we are talking about professional people whose reports and work could determine the kid’s future.
The most famous research was done many years ago when two great teachers were given 2 classes to teach. Back then, they used to put all the “good” kids in one class and all the “not so good” kids in another class. They told the teachers with the “good” class, “Unfortunately, this is the worst class in the whole school”, and to the other teacher with the very troubled class they said, “Lucky you, you have the best class in the school”. And what do you know, at the end of year they realised that the grades in the “good” class dropped and the grade in the “not so good class” went up high. You probably ask yourself, “How could that happen?”
Well, they went and asked the teachers. The teacher of the “good” class, thinking they were the worst, said, “Every time the students talked or did something inappropriate, I was very strict with them”. The other teacher, with the “not so good” class, thinking they were the best class in the whole school, said, “They moved a lot, so I figured if they were the best class and moved around and talked in the class, I’d let them do it and have more moving activities and group activities”.
So what happened? The once-good class had been studying 80% of the time and was “policed” only 20%. Their new teacher changed this ratio to be 50% learning and 50% “policing” and performance dropped. The other class went from mostly “policing” to more studying. Simple!
This research showed that what we think has a direct influence on other people. This research was important to me because in special education we always ask ourselves if we should read a new student’s file before we start working with them.
In a sense, this research (and many others related to self-fulfilling prophecies) was the best thing that happened to my teen daughter. I realised I could influence how she turns out by thinking she was great.
I read the post and said to myself, “How on Earth can teens overcome this image?”
Do you know why it is hard to be a teen? Because of parents who think you are a pain!
If you think you have disrespectful teens, you will react to many things they do as if they were disrespectful. If you think you have rude teens, you will interpret many things they do as if they were rude, because much like professional people, you are not immune against the self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think I have a wonderful daughter only because I think I have a wonderful daughter. What about you?