I have a beautiful girlfriend named Brittany, who has a son who just recently turned four. He is smart, cute as a button, and is a lot like the high school sophomores I teach five days a week.
Most people would hope that teenagers would have grown far beyond the level of a small child, but perhaps living in a digital cornucopia of touchscreen distraction has extended childhood far past its former range. Young’uns these days seem to have less discipline than even a dozen years ago, when I roamed the high school hallways and often spoke out of turn.
The first thing to make me compare four-year-olds and sixteen-year-olds was the incessant demand for potty breaks. And while the teenagers no longer call them “potty breaks,” their whiny tones and pleading eyes, as well as inopportune moments of insisting they “have to go,” hardly indicated a maturity level beyond toddlerhood.
“Mister, can I go to the bathroom???” is the constant plea as my fourth period class straggles in from lunch. During the entire 55 minute lunch period they cannot handle their business, apparently. They have a pressing need to eat fast food, text, chatter, and only want to attend to personal needs once back on company time.
“Not now,” I reply, trying to glower. “But MIIIIISTERRRRRR!!!” comes the wailing response. The student slumps into the classroom unhappily.
When I do hand out the restroom pass it becomes a relay baton, passed from student to student until the end of class. Like little kids, teenagers always have to go. Every period.
And then, like the four-year-old who “zones out” in the bathroom and spends a half hour in there, singing and babbling, many high school sophomores “forget” to return to class. They roam the halls, I presume.
I don’t go looking for them…I just listen to the cacophony of ever-angrier students as the minutes drag on. “What is TAKING so long?!” they begin to mutter. Eventually the student returns, looking a tad guilty.
“You took too long. No more restroom passes for you,” I say, retrieving my rectangular pass of purple plastic. The student, like a four-year-old, begins to plead and protest. “I really had to go! I wasn’t gone that long! That’s not fair!”
So far, unlike a young child, no sophomore has been reduced to tears, but I have seen a few quavering chins.
Rapid mood swings also bridge the age gap of twelve years, uniting teens and tots without fail. A four-year-old can go from happy to sad to happy to angry to hungry to sleepy to crying in the space of five minutes. A sixteen-year-old can go from happy to sad to happy to sleepy to angry to resentful to sleepy in an equal space of time.
The sleepiness and resentfulness go hand-in-hand because I tell them they cannot sleep. And they also get hungry within the midst of those mood swings – I frequently hear the crinkle of wrappers masked by hoodie pockets and bulging purses.
Their happiness and love at getting to see a movie instead of taking notes is childlike in its intensity and wonder…and in its brevity. Within ten to fifteen minutes of education video the teens are no longer enthralled by your generosity and are once again focused on continuing old gossip and exploring the digital playground that is their cell phone.
“Put the phones away!” I bark, like I would to a misbehavior little kid. They glare back, and put the phones away in childlike resentment.
Four-year-olds and sixteen-year-olds forget directions but remember promised rewards in equal measure. I have seen a four-year-old ignore his mother’s recent directives but remember, hours later, briefly mentioned candy or a toy. Likewise, sixteen-year-olds cannot follow written, or spoken, directions for an assignment but will raise heck if an indicated movie day is changed from three days away to four days away.
They “can’t remember” that you wanted them to write in complete sentences but do recall that you said, weeks ago, that the next test would be multiple choice.
Which raises the questions, for both sides of the dozen-year gap, what the heck are they thinking?