Teaching teenagers martial arts isn’t an easy thing to do simply because them actually BEING teenagers isn’t easy! Indeed, teaching them can be a frustrating and stressful experience, as they tend to be less motivated than other age groups, and can prove to be very unpredictable. However, they can also be the most rewarding, fun and liveliest students you’ll ever teach in your life!
When called upon to teach teenagers, it is important for the instructor to understand that adolescents are going through a time of enormous change and quite often they will exhibit some of the classic signs of what is termed “Teenage angst” (Loud/aggressive behavior, etc) without getting too technical, one of the reasons for this behavior is that a certain part of their brain (the “Neo-Cortex” which is the part of the brain concerned with such things as language, empathy and other higher functions) has not yet fully developed, so they rely very heavily upon a much more ancient area of the brain called the “Amygdala”.
The amygdala is the part of the brain concerned with feelings, so it is to be expected that they will behave like extremely emotional creatures! They can be prone to certain “Psycho-Somatic” problems (such as eating disorders, which are a well known symptom of both anxiety and depression, etc) and some can even end up exhibiting suicidal tendencies if they are not shown enough care and support. This state of affairs might be further exasperated if they happen to be going through exams or have some type of personal problems, etc.
That they need a healthy, positive outlet for this “angst” is completely obvious. However, if they don’t have such opportunities afforded them, then it is almost inevitable that they will turn to increasingly anti social behavior such as vandalism and violence as a form of self-expression.
And, this is precisely where martial arts training can play a pivotal role, helping the young person to gain a strong sense of society, the world, and the “self”.
As already stated, teaching this particular age group can prove to be quite problematic.
But, effective martial arts instructors are those who can prevent problems from occurring in the first place and know what to do and feel confident when trouble starts. Following a few rules can help.
-Be friendly but firm, establish and agree upon a code of behavior and KEEP TO IT!
-Make sure you explain things very clearly, and check they have understood.
-Keep your lessons moving at a sharp pace, including plenty of “challenging” activities. This will aid in motivating the students so keeping boredom and disinterest at bay.
-Remember to treat them fairly and with respect as young adults rather than children, and you will get a lot more from them.
-Give them plenty of encouragement by drawing attention to what they have done well rather than criticizing them too harshly for any mistakes they might have made.
-Be sure to allow these students a good measure of freedom, and try and involve them in the decision-making process.
-Be understanding and supportive.
-Always remain as cool, calm and collected as possible (they can smell fear!!!) losing your composure will only serve in fueling any sort of difficult or disruptive behavior.
-If at all possible, try and have a special class for this age group, as this will have several advantages, and can act as a very concrete acknowledgment of the fact that these students are no longer “children”, and are now beginning to mature into adulthood (though they are still not yet adults) This acts as a “right of passage” if you will, which in turn can help the young person to understand and appreciate their “place” in society.
Adolescents are energetic, strong, opinionated, argumentative, impatient, confused, frustrated AND stressed out! BUT: They are also considerate, intelligent and respectful: a rich tapestry of contradictions. In other words: Just like you and I were at that age! The martial arts can help them concentrate upon developing the more positive character-traits while at the same time modifying and controlling the negative ones.
The teenage years are a period of our lives in which we are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to outside influences, both positive and negative. The way that instructors treat, and behave towards, these young people can have an enormous impact upon their future development as regards their values, attitudes and behaviors.
Adolescents are very impressionable, and the more positive role models they have the better for their future development: The martial arts instructor needs to become a good role model for all his/her students, but especially these teenagers. It should always be remembered that this is a time of exploration and experimentation, so be sure to encourage them to put some of their own ideas into their training and execution of their techniques (in line with the Health and Safety requirements, off course!)
Adolescence is the period of our lives wherein we search for clarification of our own individual identity or “find ourselves” in other words. And finding ourselves is a necessary pre-requisite for moving forward in our lives.
Martial arts training equip the teenager with the confidence, strength, purpose and direction they need to help them in this task