Volume 72: The Hypocrisy of Academics and Adolesence

Posted on 01/30/2013


HypocrisyYesterday, I was faced with a harsh reality of urban education. I had a student that I knew be brought back to school in custody by truancy police. This reality was particularly harsh for me because I egotistically believed that the continuation of my mentoring program would have helped this young man from suffering through this particular fate. My ego says, “I could have made a difference.” As the young man and I were talking (well, mainly I was talking) I had one of my many epiphanies. I realized that the failure of high school education in urban and lower SES areas is the belief that expected behavior can be expressed verbally and our message will be received and processed. Why do we believe that? Why do we assume that appropriate behavior is something that we all should “know”, and be able to produce instantly and perpetually? Appropriate behavior must be modeled throughout a child’s life in order for them to be able to reproduce it. Broken homes, inconsistent and nonexistent parenting, gangs and violence have all but eradicated a developing child’s ability to process appropriate behavior. Juxtapose that against an entertainment industry that glamorizes anti-intellectual pursuits and you can understand The Hypocrisy of Academics and Adolescence.

Unrehearsed Lines

One of the phrases I have heard (and said) over and over is “You’ve got to make better decisions,” and the child will shake their head in an affirmative acknowledgement. I take that as a full understanding my meaning. But, what are “better decisions”? How are they displayed in a child that has been shown to let the emotions of the moment drive their decision-making? It’s like taking an acting job and not rehearsing your lines. Sure, you may have moments where you “get it” but, over time, the role will overwhelm you and your overall performance will be poor. Properly modeled behavior provides a child with the skill-set to make those aforementioned “better decisions”. It moves the understanding from the superficial surface to the contextually complex. It moves a child from the “what you need to do” to the “how you can do it” phase of development. That’s why we call them “role models.”

Under Construction

We become hypocrites when we assume that an adolescent child has all the tools to develop into a well-adjusted, high functioning student. Well, let’s really think about that developmental period. First, adolescents have an underdeveloped frontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that controls reasoning and judgement. Then, you have the egocentric disorders of the imaginary audience and personal fable primarily characterizing this period as well. Finally, you mix in the previously mentioned poor parenting, add a dash of risk taking, and a desperate sense of wanting to be accepted by their peers, and you get a recipe for wellllllllll, inconsistency,  at best. The frustration I see school administrators have with adolescents is when their behavior is inconsistent and they’re unmotivated academically. Really? With all that going on internally and externally, it’s amazing to me that any education reaches them at all. Teenagers need to have a temporary tatoo that states, “Under construction,” or “Engage at your own risk.” #imjustsayin


Working with teenagers has forced me to take a long, hard look at myself. My initial response was driven by revisionist history and biased by my current state of general contentment. However, if I were real honest with myself (which I try to be from time-to-time), my adolescence was characterized by a overinflated ego, wild mood swings, and generally inconsistent behavior. I made many poor decisions – some of which I still regret – and I came from a relatively stable home environment! I had/have a family that loves me and provided some good modeling; and yet, I made decisions so poor that sometimes I’m amazed I lived to tell you about it, LOL! Those of us that “made it” to live somewhat productive lives have the tendency to employ the “if I did it, you can too” philosophy; but is that really fair? Are we providing too little and expecting too much from our teens? We are hypocritical because we fail to recognize those people in our lives that showed us how to behave versus telling us. We are hypocritical when we don’t allow them to same room to learn from their mistakes that we were given. Once, I heard a definition of freedom as “the room to grow.” Why then, would we deny them the freedom they need to find their own place in life?

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”