School News & Blog

August 12, 2021

Helping Children Become Independent – No 2 Adolescents

Teacher Lionel Scicluna shares how lessons from beekeeping can help parents with the tricky task of raising adolescents in his talk at a recent Parent Program meeting. 


Good evening and a huge thank you for coming along tonight.  I’d like to thank Renee for her wonderful presentation, and I’m looking forward to hearing Laura speak after me. 

I’m going to continue the theme of helping children become independent and as my current role at SOTE is co-ordinating the Year Nine Discovery Program, I’ll be focussing on our Junior Secondary students – broadly grouped as ages 11-15. 

Developing teenagers are infinitely complex – we witness a raw expression of their innate qualities backed up by the sum of all the nurture they’ve received from family and teachers in the past decade or so.   As parents and teachers of adolescents we are working with a human being undergoing a metamorphosis if you will, from child to adult.   

I see teachers and parents have the most success with teenagers if they are able to view adolescence as simply a natural stage of development. It’s complex and very challenging, but it is still a natural process.   

I believe we can better understand complex ideas by looking to patterns in nature.  Some of my biggest lessons in life were from my time working with honeybees.  

So, I once worked as a full-time beekeeper. Spending 10 hours a day with insects that have reportedly been around for 100 million years really humbles you and puts your day to day problems into perspective. 

In addition to working with bees themselves, I taught beekeeping to adults on weekends. I used to tell these beekeepers-in-training that working with bees is like working with teenagers: 

  • You need a thick skin 
  • You don’t do it for the money 
  • When things work out, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is second to none. 

So, it’s only fitting that tonight I continue that metaphor, to present my perspective on how we can help children in junior secondary become independent.  In its most condensed form, it comes down to providing the right amount of space and doing so at right time. 

The Right Space 

If a beekeeper doesn’t give a colony of bees enough room to grow and expand, the bees will become cramped, frustrated and their natural instinct will kick in – they’ll swarm.  A swarm of bees isn’t aggressive, it’s a natural response to its environmental condition of not having enough space.   

The same can be said for our teenagers – if as parents and educators we are cramping them by too often making choices for them, and in effect taking away their independence, they may rebel – we usually see this through avoidant behaviours – physically or emotionally. 

On the other hand, if you give a colony of bees too much room – the bees will struggle to keep their hive warm, let alone defend all that excess space.  When an invasive beetle lands at the entrance of the hive, it’ll walk right in, lay eggs all through the frames of honey. When those eggs hatch, the larvae will infest the hive. 

With our teens, we run the same risk.  If they’ve got too much space or too few boundaries, then unhealthy ideas and habits can sneak in. If they’ve got too much time alone on screens, or out and about on weekends or after school, they may develop their sense of independence unchecked by us as their parents and educators. We need to find the goldilocks zone with each child – enough space so they have time to reflect, yet they feel they can seek us out when they need guidance.   

The Right Time  

Don’t open a beehive on a cold or windy day. They actually like to keep their hive at around 35 degrees.  If a beekeeper were to open a beehive on a cold day, even the calmest of bees will react to that cold blast of air and take it very personally – and you’ll learn the meaning of pain. 

In response to this barrage of 50,000 angry bees, beekeepers can respond with aggression – slamming things, puffing smoke all over the hive and swearing as they pick out the stings.  Both the bees and the beekeeper walk away worse off as the relationship has been damaged by that interaction. 

We need to know when the weather is just right to check-in with our teens. This is where needing a thick skin comes in – when we get an unexpected or hormone-fuelled reaction to a simple request or suggestion, we’ve got to not take it personally, take a breath and just try again later.   

I can ask a Year 9 student the same question an hour apart and get a completely different response.   

Be Present 

So how do we know if we’re providing enough space or whether you should bring something up now or a bit later? 

If there’s one last suggestion I learned from working with bees, it’s to be as present as possible. When we’re able to bring our minds entirely to the present, we can notice little signs that we would otherwise miss.  

As a teacher, I know that missing any one of those signs can wreak havoc on a student’s capacity to engage in a lesson.  I also know how special it is to a teenager when we do notice they have something they want to express and they are felt like they are being listened to and supported as an individual.  As we continue to build relationships with our junior secondary students, we’ll become better and better at detecting when something isn’t quite right. Being present really helps. 

To conclude, I’d like to offer 4 little things that can have a profound impact on developing an adolescent’s sense of independence. 

  • Seeing a doctor or a health care provider for a general check up on their own.  
  • Attending a general health check and talk with a doctor on their own allows them to feel seen and heard as an individual. This can have a profound impact on their sense of independence.
  • Get them involved in a club where we are not a spectator 
  • Whether it’s music, sport or a book club, if we are not present as a spectator, we can genuinely ask them about their experience. While we listen, we are unable to project onto or judge their experience as we were simply not present. This increases their ownership of the hobby as well as opens a healthy dialogue.
  • Get them saving for their first car years in advance 
  • Whether through pocket money or a part-time job, we should spend time to set up a long-term savings plan with our teens – I notice a huge difference in the attitude students have towards their car depending on whether it was bought for them, or they saved and contributed towards it.  Those who had to save for it experienced firsthand the time and effort it took to afford a car, and with that comes a great appreciation of its value.
  • Contacting Teachers or Employers 
  • If they need to contact their teacher or employer out of contact hours, build them up to doing so independently. All students here have an email address and their teacher’s email address.  Have them email the teacher – this massively increases a student’s ownership of their learning, and a huge part of being independent is being able to communicate effectively.

Thank you for listening.