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Lazy Teenagers

November 8, 2015

I often hear that teenagers are lazy. When I hear that, I feel a bit confused. You see, I have never met a lazy teenager. I’ve been around them my whole life. My brother is 7 years older than me, so by the time I was 6, he was a teenager. My brother’s room was a mess; Laundry piles all over and a bit stinky. I suppose that makes him seem lazy, but he put hours upon hours in coding and art. Now he is a phenomenal artist, a first rate photographer, and a wonderful graphic designer. He never did turn out to be a professional room cleaner. Wasn’t his thing. When I was student teacher, I had kids in my class that were full on flunking; they’d zone out, never turn in homework, and try to sleep the hour away. So lazy, right? But then I saw one of my failing boys drawing and he was consumed, focused, and putting in real effort. I saw another at the skate park. He’d try a trick, fall and try it again. Over and over. For hours. I didn’t have lazy kids in my class; I had artists and athletes. They weren’t really into what I had for them; they wanted something else.

I am almost 39, so I have been either a little sister to a teen, a teen myself or a teacher working with teens for a really long time, and I don’t think teens are lazy. I think they are just not interested. Laziness and apathy are different entities. I think apathy can be treated by making the tasks relevant. Studying the Constitution in 8th grade is REALLY boring. OMG. So boring. What 13 year old cares about the Constitution?! But knowing how your 1st amendment rights affect what you can post on Facebook or Instagram or any of the other relevant social media platforms is a little more interest grabbing. Geometry is a snore fest until a skateboarder needs to get the transitions right on the 1/2 pipe she is building. Curiosity causes a need to learn new skills; curiosity kills apathy.

I don’t think teenagers are lazy. I think we parents and teachers are old and forcing our irrelevant interests on them. We think it is really important to know the causes of World Wars or how to do Algebra or how to correctly use commas because we as adults need to know that stuff to vote on world affairs, figure out the air speed velocity of an African Swallow (because who am I kidding? No one needs to know Algebra), or correctly punctuate an email that you are sending to your boss. We call kids lazy because they are not interested in what we are interested in and that is not really fair.

I have met lazy adults or adults who lack interest in what they are doing; apathetic adults. I’ve seen teachers that are too lazy to try and make a lesson relevant so that they rely on “carrot and stick” forms of incentives to motivate kids. Bad grades. No honor roll. The threat of not having the GPA to get into a good college. These motivators are the worst. They are. They are made up, not real measurements that lazy schools have created to motivate apathetic kids. For some kids this works, for others, they couldn’t care less about grades or fake awards or Ivy league colleges, but these kids are not lazy. They are just not interested.

I am currently teach”Romeo and Juliet,” which I have taught many times before. I am striving not to be lazy and use old lessons. I want to make the lessons accessible because you know what? “Romeo and Juliet” is highly relevant to my teens. They want to know about love, sacrifice, infatuation, suicide, gang warfare, and the bonds of friendship but I found my kids nodding off because I spent way too long focusing on the poetry of Shakespeare’s language. I am interested in Shakespeare’s talent with words, but they aren’t. I wasn’t at 15 either. So out come the swords. Let’s do fight scenes. Let’s talk about sex and death and what love really is, and I got them back.

I have watched phenomenal teachers make subjects that would seem inaccessible come alive. They make vocabulary exercises enthralling, the Holocaust a personal heartbreak and Algebra almost seem relevant….almost. Non-lazy teachers destroy apathy.

Teachers, parents and anyone else working with a teenager, I would ask that you stop talking about how lazy kids are these days and find ways to make what you want them to do relevant. Your kid won’t get a job? Stop paying for things for him and the job idea will get real relevant, real quick. Want your child to love to read? Show them the world that lies in books is a world they want to be in. If you find a way to make cleaning their room relevant, please pass that on because I still can’t motivate myself to clean mine.

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