Growing up in the Hudson River Valley of New York I had a wonderful “village” of people who came and went – and sometimes stayed – in my life. I had peers in my neighborhood, at school, sports teams and summer camp. There were also the adults: my parents, school teachers, elected officials (my father held elected office since I was in 5th grade so we often interfaced with local political leadership), piano teacher, softball team coaches, Girl Scout leaders, friends’ parents, and rabbis (especially the rabbi who tutored me for my bat mitzvah). But most exciting of all…the teenagers! Babysitters, older cousins, camp counselors and neighbors who were teenagers were the most exciting and fun people to me when I was in elementary and middle school!
Now that both of my children are in elementary school I notice that they are very excited about teens, too. Teens are important because they are role models for younger children – good or bad – younger children are looking at the teens in their lives. Ever think about the wild success of movies about high school in the US? From Grease (a favorite of mine growing up) to High School Musical, and Beverly Hills 90210 to Saved By The Bell…teen years and characters are compelling to watch. Who are the “real life” teens that will interface with my children? My nephew will soon be a teenager (yow – how did that happen!?) and he is definitely present in my children’s lives. Who else? Their camp counselors in the summer – check. But I’m concerned about the school year because television teens (while we limit this kind of TV watching in our house) are NOT the ones I want my children to build their ideas about adolescence from! Disney channel teens’ patterns of speech, to say the least, are like nails on a chalkboard to me.
It occurred to me that I could start to look for opportunities to introduce healthy teens into my kids’ every day lives. This could be as simple as bringing in a middle school age “mother’s helper” to play for a few hours while I get things done around the house, or range to bringing in a high school senior to bike around the neighborhood with them. This has been wonderful for all of us! Because of this little assignment for myself I really started to look around at the teens in MY life. While adolescent brains are not yet fully myelinated (this means their decision making and judgement skills are still forming during adolescence) many teens are joyful, playful, and positive influences on elementary age children. My children are building their own “village” and I can help steer them toward healthy influences. If you have a teen in your life that you like, why not introduce her or him to your children’s world?