Concentration in the Third Plane
Ah, adolescence. The big emotions. The physical changes. The seemingly endless push and pull between childhood and adulthood, when kids can be as mature as they are silly, as wise as they are scattered. While the outer appearance of adolescents may look like a hot mess, they are still thinking deep thoughts inside.
Concentration and engagement at this age can be harder to spot- it's the age, after all, when kids are so often told, "You'd lose your head if it wasn't screwed on tight." It's true. This is a difficult time for youth to concentrate, their developing brains and bodies are pulled in so many different directions that even the rhythm of day and night can get confused.
Take heart: there are things you can do to support learners engagement in the Third Plane:
Turn off the screens: while your teen may seem engrossed in screen-based activities, screens offer learners a constant stream of new information and stimulation. With enough time, they interfere with teens' ability to concentrate when the screen is off and the stimulation may not be quite so persistent. Allow particular times of day and particular places in the house when screens can be used, but let them be sparse.
While you might want your teen in the middle of the action, if there is something you need them to attend to, you're better off finding a quiet, secluded space to work. Working from the kitchen table, for example, will only be as successful as the kitchen is quiet. Otherwise, all the distractions of the family will interfere with your learner's engagement.
Be attentive to comfort. Teens' bodies are transforming, and they often feel ill-at-ease in their own skin. Let them find places that are comfortable to think and concentrate, without physical distractions.
Build in time for quiet, and build in time for talk. Your teen may not offer as much conversation as they did when they were younger. Make time for it anyway, and prompt their engagement. Make eye contact. Put away your own distractions. Lean in and model being genuinely curious about what your teen has to say, and you might find that they say more after all.
Counter the impulsiveness of adolescence by modeling reflective practices. It's just fine to say to your teen, "That's an interesting point. Let me think about it before I respond." Big decisions should take time to make, and you should demonstrate for your child in your own habits how thoughtful decisions are made.
Get outside. Take regular long walks. Hike together. Engage. And while you're out there, remember that your first goal in being outdoors with your kid is to be with your kid. It's easy to get lost in your own thoughts when you're outside, especially since we are just as nature-deprived as adults as our kids are. Raise the big questions. Check in. Share things from your own experiences. Talking with your teen while you're moving offers a space for thinking about what you might say next. Unlike a more direct, face-to-face conversation, a talk while walking gives space for quiet as you walk along. Neither you nor your teen has to have an answer right away. It's far less confrontational than staring at each other, and it lets there be space for harder conversations to emerge.
Help them organize. In the classroom, you'll see structures in place to support teens in time-management and organization. Think about the same at home. Learning to manage your time doesn't come easily. Talk with your teen about what kinds of systems might work for them, then help them to try them out. Remember not to remind them, but to check in with them to see how it's going. Be the prompt for them to assess how well they're moving toward goals they've set themselves.
Finally, be reasonable in your expectations. Early adolescence in a time of so much change and chaos. The Montessori classrooms reflect that, with ample opportunities for outdoor activity and meaningful physical work. You can't change the chaos and you can't carry it for your child. But you can be a forgiving space for them to crash when things go awry. You can be a voice of reason when they may have let themselves down. You can be the person who helps them to predict and avoid problems rather than responding and punishing them for things they didn't yet know to do differently. You can be the one who loves them in the middle of the mess, who keeps the focus on the person they are growing into, and who remembers that this, too, is a necessary part of the path to get there.