The Power of Self-Advocacy
A big part of becoming a successful, independent member of society is being able to advocate for oneself. We all need to know our own worth, and we need to feel confident enough to speak up for what we need in life.
This is hard for lots of people - adults included - so it makes sense that we teach our kids the skills from an early age and continue practicing with them until they can confidently communicate with those around them.
What can you do as a parent of a young adult? Plenty!
A note about learning differences
Self-advocacy is a critical skill for all teens, but it is especially important for teens with diagnosed learning differences. We believe they are just that - differences, not deficits. We also believe that talking to our kids about their differences is empowering.
For example, if your daughter is diagnosed with ADHD, you may choose to discuss that with her. Let her know that she learns differently than many of her peers and what those differences look like. She may find it challenging to concentrate on some tasks, but be able to feel hyper focused on others. With time and practice, she will figure out a variety of strategies to help her concentrate when it’s hard.
The important thing is being transparent with your adolescent and letting them know that their differences should be celebrated. With anything that brings struggle, there is also a side that brings strength. The work lies within understanding oneself, recognizing our needs, and being assertive enough to speak up and ask for them.
Giving teenagers language
Self-advocacy should start when children are young, and our job as parents is to help children – and adolescents – name what they are experiencing and suggest what they might do about it.
This language-giving work will continue and become more complex as your teen gets older. Sometimes you might talk about advocacy in their home life, or you might help give them language they need to address a problem at school or elsewhere. Before they head off, help them consider the following:
● What challenge are they facing?
● What do they need to be successful?
● What could they say to a guide or fellow student that would convey both?
It can be hard to speak up at any age. Even in an environment that values everyone’s voice, sometimes we stay quiet because we don’t want to cause any trouble. It’s helpful for adolescents to understand that their needs are valid (and it might help to differentiate these with wants).
One fun way to practice is to role play. For example, you play the part of the teacher while your teen works through what to say.
“I feel like this math is too easy for me. What can I do to move on to something more challenging?”
“I’m having a hard time focusing when I sit next to my friend, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Can you give me any ideas on what to do?”
At Quadrat Academy, we love when students speak up for themselves in a respectful and empathetic manner. It shows that the student really cares about their learning, and it’s beautiful to see them feeling empowered and confident.
Sometimes students have a different view of their own mastery and academic needs than their guide has observed. It’s a good idea to encourage teens to be open-minded and understand that they may not always get what they are hoping for.
Resist the urge to come to the rescue (to a point)
Here it is again. Yet another circumstance in which we want to help our kids out (of course!). When your student is struggling in math, it’s a natural reaction to write a quick message to the teacher and let them know/ask them what can be done.
Whenever possible, we encourage you to encourage your student to take the lead.
Go through the steps we mentioned above, send your teen off to school to resolve the issue independently, then ask them how it went. Chances are, change has already begun! But if not, and if you are concerned about a serious issue, by all means reach out. As with everything else in parenting, it’s all about the gradual release of independence.
We can teach our teens to speak for themselves, but we can’t expect them to be proficient all at once. That takes time. Give them the information, guide them to feel they can do it, allow them to execute their plan, but then let them lean on you if it doesn’t go as expected.
It’s a delicate balance.