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Persistence in the Third Plane

April 19, 2019

 

Like other developmental phenomena, children's experiences with frustration and persistence reflect their stage of development. For learners in the Third Plane, the frequency, intensity and cause of frustration can be almost impossible to predict. These young people are dancing among physical, social and intellectual chaos, with their bodies, their relationships and their identities changing rapidly and irregularly. The only thing predictable about what frustrates them and their ability to push through those challenges is that it will be unpredictable. 

 

Above all, adult advocates, then, need to practice their own patience now. Your teen may look and speak like an adult. They may make reasonable, wise observations on the world. You may take pause sometimes at the thoughtfulness with which they articulate their goals or the compassion they can show to their peers. And then you may be totally blindsided by a meltdown over some seemingly miniscule affront, like the length of their trousers or whether they need to put their telephone away at the dinner table. 

 

Think about what you know about learners in the Third Plane: they are flooded by change in almost all aspects of their lives. They want simultaneously to be responsible and to be free. They are outraged by injustices and often not so good at distinguishing between issues of justice and issues of taste. They have to work through all the contradictions of adolescence. And there is no level of insistence from you that is going to rush that process along, no more so than you could have made your toddler grow faster. Indeed, reminding teens that they are overreacting or being dramatic or making too big deal out of things enforces for them the belief that you don't really understand them. 

 

Instead, think of this time as an opportunity for you to model self-care and compassion and to practice your own patience. Affirm the stressors. "This feels like it matters a lot to you." Model emotional self-regulation. "Let's take a second to breathe before we talk." Ask for student-generated solutions." What do you want to do to move forward?" Help them to set manageable goals and talk with them as they reach each one about how they feel about the pace and progress of their effort. And finally, be a torchlight, not a mirror. When teens say things like, "I'm never going to get this right," or "I'm the worst at this!" remind them clearly that you're focused on what step you can take next rather than on why it's hard. "I know it feels that way, but I'm interested in talking about what you need to move forward from this." 

 

You cannot protect your teen from the struggles, big and small that accompany adolescence. You can't keep them from the bad grade or getting cut from auditions or the ways teens can hurt each other's hearts sometimes. And likewise, you can't pick up all the pieces for them. Your goal is not to shield them from the world, but to help them to be prepared for it and to remind them that you love them even in the messy times. Your calm, your patience, and your eye contact are far more valuable gifts than your protection. As they practice moving through challenging moments, they're going to have clear messages, from their peers, from the media, from that little red devil standing on their left shoulders, that they are less than they should be. Your work  is to be the constant voice, that angel on their other shoulder, reminding them that they are strong enough, they are clever enough, and they are not alone. 

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