In some ways, protecting the Freedom of Choice for learners in the Third Plane of development can be the most stressful for parents and teachers. The potential downside seems greater and the motivation to keep our teens safe from the real dangers that are out there is strong. It’s true- the developmental phenomena of adolescence that presents as recklessness in many teens can have real and serious consequences. But our protests don’t change the nature of that development. Tightening the restraints on adolescents doesn’t necessarily keep them safe; more often, it drives them to pull farther away.
In the Montessori classroom, the Freedom of Choice for learners in the Third Plane is usually immediately evident. You’ll see learners determining the order and nature of their studies, often taking vastly different routes than their peers in what they read or research. Simultaneously, you’ll see groups of teens coming together to identify, strategize and implement large-scale engagements. The authority and agency is clear and, especially for teens who have come through six or nine years of previous Montessori, demonstrated in notably responsible and thoughtful ways.
That’s not to say, though, that there aren’t unpredictable moments for Montessori teens. They are still likely to think themselves invincible. They are still more sensitive to injustice and more outraged by the ways in which adults have left a mess for them. These are universal developmental phenomena, and they require a steady, patient response from adults. You’ll see Montessori teachers stepping far into the role of counselor and advisor, asking question after question to help teens refine their strategies and avoid predictable pitfalls.
“Tell me more about… ?”
“Have you considered…?.”
“Are you prepared for…? “
“What resources do you need… ? “
Building on the relationships built in previous years, the wilder choices sometimes associated with adolescence are tamed. But it’s not all peaceful resolution. Montessori teachers working with teens also consider which battles to engage, understanding that a young adult’s need for agency and authority, even when things go wrong, is invaluable and irreplaceable. You’ll see teachers intervene when a teen’s choices are likely to hurt themselves or others, or when damage that cannot be repaired is predictable. But you won’t see as close control enacted for the curious choices of dress or hairstyle teens are tempted to explore. You won’t see as much pushback on music choices. Instead, when teens make choices that seem designed to rebel against social norms, you’ll notice more conversation, with engaged and earnestly curious adults, that helps teachers to better understand the complex nature of the learner who has made those choices.
For parents, this is a time to choose carefully when to object to your teen’s choices and when to ask them for more information, to help them to think through choices before they make them but to do so in a way that offers guidance without inflexible direction, that helps to predict likely outcomes but does not insist that the teen take one path or another. Save those veto cards for the really big choices, and let the less important day-to-day ones be an opportunity to ask more questions, listen more carefully and love with more curiosity the distinct individual your teen has become.