Tickbox Teenagering

Our Undercover Teacher lists ten top tick-box teenagering traits to expect from your growing teen

*Please note if you are concerned for the welfare of your child, you may need to seek professional guidance and support which can range from talking to the GP, taking them to A&E, arranging counselling or calling the emergency services. The information below is intended for 'non-emergency situations' and is designed to flag frequent teenage traits and general advice where there is no imminent threat to safety or wellbeing.

Having done this job for a long-time, it has become noticeable just how many teenagers around the age of 13 and 14 feel it is their right, almost their duty, to work through the different stages of 'things I ought to be doing as I am a teenager'. 

Colleagues and I have come to call this 'tickbox teenagering', because it sometimes seems as if some of them are just going through the motions. 

That's not to say it is pleasant to be a parent of one of these tick-box teenagers or that some traits should be taken more seriously and help sought. However, I have found that letting pupils know they are not rebelling as much as they think - and are, in fact, just following a long line of what people their age have done before - makes it a little bit less cool to do these things. 

So here's my Top Ten of Tickbox Teenagering

1) Mucking About with their Appearance - this can take many forms, but ultimately, it's about breaking rules and conventions with clothing (short skirts, shirt hanging out at school, wearing trainers at school, hoop earrings, makeup, hair dye), then claiming they should be allowed to 'express themselves' despite having numerous other ways to do so (sport, drama, music etc).

2) Drinking Alcohol - When they start drinking alcohol there are two problems: First is that their bodies and brains are not ready for its effect, and second is that since they are basically drinking alcohol for the sake of it, or to try and show they are cool and grown up, you may find yourself having to pick them up an hour after they go out because they have overdone it. 

3) Vaping - This is a newish one and very odd, because vaping is really quite pointless. However, it's also odourless and colourless, so pupils can't easily be caught doing it. Therefore, the benefits they get from vaping (which is purely being able to tick a teenager box) outweigh the costs of being caught.

4) Smoking Cigarettes - This one is more of a classic tickbox, but obviously more risky. Why - given all they learn about the dangers of smoking, all they see on the packets of cigarettes, the difficulty for them to purchase and the exorbitant cost - they bother with smoking cigarettes, beats me. But they still do it.

5) Hating Parents - Now this one is absolutely vital. Please don't take it personally, it almost certainly isn't you! The thing is, teenagers have an excess of dopamine over serotonin, which in layman's terms means they have an excess of the hormone that makes them take more risks (see above) and seek independence from their parents. Needing an excuse for seeking independence from their parents, teenagers tend to sit around telling each other how terrible their parents are, when all you are actually doing is providing the boundaries a loving parent should do.

6)  Hating School - This is also important. Your teenager will secretly quite like many aspects of school (like they also secretly quite like many aspects of you). BUT telling each other they hate school, they don't trust any of the teachers, and school is terrible is absolutely a tickbox that mustn't be missed out. Because you and your child's school will probably be going through this together, you should actually get considerable sympathy from their school. It doesn't make it easier though.

7) Inappropriate Use of Social Media - from sexting to ghosting, arguing, unfriending and even accidentally spending £XXX on app add-ons are just some of the pitfalls that today's teenagers need to learn to navigate. Understanding that they will make mistakes and letting them feel confident that they can tell you when things do go wrong is a good starting point when dealing with this.

8)  Searching for Porn - As a middle school teacher I can't tell you how much time I spend dealing with the issue of (mainly) boys searching for porn. It's a normal part of the curiosity of youth, so don't be too surprised if you find this has occurred and talk to them about it. 

9) Wrong Place & Time - at some point your child will almost certainly not be in the place they are supposed to be at the time they have said they will be. Whether that's getting back from school, coming home at the agreed time or being somewhere different to what you'd agreed, this is an absolute classic that feeds into their desire for freedom, rebellion and risk-taking. 

10)  Shut Down - Refusing to talk to anyone about how they are feeling (apart from screaming at a few people who love them) And there'll be a few slamming doors in the process.

A Word of Reassurance

It's no secret that this can be a very challenging time for parents, but it's important to remember that, just like every other stage of childhood, it is a phase that they will grow out of. While there's no single answer or remedy for these various tick-boxes, it's important to love them consistently, (even - and especially - when it's hard), and to keep the channels of communication open as much as possible with them. 

It also helps to communicate with your school - whether that's a year head, tutor, pastoral lead or councillor - it's all about collectively guiding and supporting them through this phase and out the other side, when they will slowly emerge as the wonderful young adults you hoped they'd become. 


Undercover Teacher

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