Towards The Mountains…

I have been taking a parenting class, along with a group of others, with Carrie Thomas Scott, focusing on Simplicity Parenting. We have spent a considerable amount of time in this class thinking about how (or whether) we honor our teens and tweens- and with the natural connection to the mission of Sage; it has been a wonderful discussion. Carrie reminds us that our young children are establishing a ‘bedrock foundation’ of our family’s values. After that, they move through the ‘living forest of feelings’ as tweens. Here, they need our guidance, even as they begin to proclaim (perhaps hostilely) their need to be with friends. They need to be reminded, at this age of the 3 t’s- time, tone, and team. They need to remember to approach us at the right time, with the right tone, and demonstrate an understanding of other’s needs (the family team) in their plans. As they come up with their ideas and plans, we need to remind them that we, not they, are the ‘authors’ of family life. “Tell me your plan, we’ll discuss it, and then we (the parents) will decide.” Helpful phrases.

As our kids move into their teen years, they move into the mountainous landscape of thinking and choice making (and practicing). We become Guides rather than Gardeners at this phase of life. We help them find, and stay in touch with, their ‘true north’ rather than watching them get pulled aside towards magnetic north or worse. It becomes our task to become aligned with their goals, constantly figuring out, alongside them, how they can stay on track to their hopes and dreams.

This is both helpful in its language and reminders. When things get challenging and frustrating, it is time for us to ‘get curious.’ ‘What is really going on here?’ becomes our mantra. We have the capacity to step back and stay in touch with what they are communicating (which may have nothing to do with their words). While we might not always feel like we have this capacity, we certainly have it more than them, and we must work to invoke it- compassionately.

The journey towards, and through, those great mountains of thoughtful consideration was one I just got a beautiful glimpse of with this senior class. They choose a bunch of issues for us to look at in the senior year- effectively they design a map of the intellectual landscape they want to climb around in, and then we explore together. One of the mountains was about ‘positive psychology’. We looked at Mathieu Ricard’s TED Talk on happiness and read part of Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving. Essentially, both men argue that love and happiness are skills or arts- to be practiced consistently and to be trained in. They are more than just casual feelings beyond our control. As part of the discussion of these ideas with the class, I asked, if these guys are right, then couldn’t we develop a school that teaches these skills? Immediately, and nearly unanimously, the group said no. We discussed it a bit more, and their opinions remained the same. Then I said, “What if I told you that’s what we’ve been doing for 7 years?” Confusion reigned. I asked them to think back to 6/7. Discussions about how ‘saving seats’ for someone feels good to the friend, but then tells everyone else you are closed off to their friendship. In 8/9 we spend time talking about our whole community. We pull in the Advocates for Green Dot training, and do Mindfulness with Flourish for the whole arc of adolescence. We use wellness to talk about inclusivity, and we do service every year to teach adolescents that their world is bigger than them, and that they must practice serving others. It gelled. They understood.

It is only now, as seniors, that they can see it. Their mind is ready to look back and understand the journey from new heights. They all realized that they have been doing this work all along, and were unanimously thankful. Suddenly, they understood much more about their journey than they were even aware. And, it’s because they were walked, carefully and cautiously, from the bedrock of their existence, through the forest of feelings, to the mountaintops of understanding. And the view is beautiful…

Chris McAvoy

Founder, Sage School