Why my students are not kids:
I’ve been there. You walk down the hall and see a childish behavior from a student. You ask for forms to be turned in on time and it doesn’t happen. You request respect and instead you get the confusing attitude of an adolescent who considers most things someone else’s fault.
It’s tempting in these moments to fall into the group of folks who want to look at millennial aged students with an age old adage of “kids these days!”
More than just passing vernacular, I have noticed a trend in many higher education settings to accidentally slip into such language.
Millennials are heavily criticized for being too self centered, unable to problem solve, and unable to make decisions. Haven’t heard the complaints? Take a look here, and here, and oh, here too.
While many of these frustrations are warranted, (and some of them largely embellished) I would argue that in higher education we have a unique responsibility and opportunity to foster a different response.
I don’t care if my students ACT like kids, the reality is they are not.
They are in transition. And if they are going to make their safe passage from one side to the other, it’s our opportunity to begin casting the vision and setting a new tone.
I used to have a sign in my office that said, “You are not a kid. College is for adults.”
Working in Career Development, I have to assume this posture. Will their future employers desire to hire “kids?” I should think not.
I am someone who extends a lot of understanding and is willing to explain new things. For goodness sakes, many of our students have NOT had the opportunity to practice adulthood. This is their chance. And so of course a natural part of the learning process is misunderstanding and failure. (Something to which we all can relate!)
Instead of taking these moments as reinforcement that students are in fact children, we need to stop and recognize it as opportunity.
While referring to students as “kids” may feel descriptive of a reality, it’s only relegating them to the invisible play pen such that a mother uses with a toddler.
Language has a powerful ability to shape action and expectation.
Therefore the more we refer to students as kids, the more they are likely to live right into that reality.
Instead of dismissing adolescent behavior as a student just “being a kid still” we need to call it for what it is. “No, you are not a kid, you are now a poorly behaving adult. Either grow up or be without a developmental excuse.”
Of course this “growing up” takes time, but in the process let’s call upon students to grow into adulthood, not shame them with the purgatory of being “kids” forever.
(PS – by the way, I’m not the first to have this thought…)