Trading Places: Adolescents as Teachers

By Strom, Paris; Strom, Robert | Adolescence, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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Trading Places: Adolescents as Teachers

Strom, Paris, Strom, Robert, Adolescence

"Freaky Friday" is a comedy film featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother of an adolescent daughter who is played by Lindsay Lohan. The pair disagrees about nearly everything including fashion, men, and Lindsay's passion to join a rock band. One night the biggest freakout ever happens when mother and daughter are mystically transformed and find themselves trapped in each other's body. Jamie's wedding is only a few days away so the pair must hurry to discover a way for switching back to themselves. Literally forced to walk in each other's shoes, mother and daughter have to learn a lot about each other in a short time.

There is considerable evidence that willingness to participate in role shifting can improve learning, motivation, and relationships. This presentation examines how trading places on the job, in the classroom, and at home might produce unique benefits. Some obstacles that accompany role shifting are also explored. Considerations for adults and recommendations for adolescents are given to help each group foster mutual development.

Trading Places at Work

The concept of mentoring originated with a Greek myth in which Mentor was entrusted to educate the son of Odysseus when he left to fight in the Trojan war. A mentor is defined as someone who acts as a wise and trusted advisor, tutor, coach, counselor, and faithful friend. A common business practice is to provide a mentor for new employees. This strategy reflects a belief that experienced workers have valuable insights, seniority involves an obligation to share knowledge with colleagues, advice from veteran co-workers can minimize mistakes, and interdependence is the perspective needed for success of individuals, teams, and companies (Zachery, 2005).

Career exploration can become a source of motivation for most students. Researching occupations, identifying the skills required for a job, and determining advantages and difficulties related to particular careers should begin in middle school. The influence of career mentors on adolescents is strong even when the parties never meet face-to-face but communicate on the Internet. An example of how the influence of mentors can contribute to career awareness and recognition of personal characteristics needed for success is the Computer Clubhouse. This joint venture is operated by the Museum of Science in Boston in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory. The center, and 75 others like it throughout the world, give boys and girls from underserved communities an after-school learning environment where they can explore their career preferences, develop job-related skills, and build confidence for performing well in the workplace. Students choose their own mentor after reviewing biographical sketches online including visuals prepared by the adult volunteers willing to dialogue with them. All the mentors have successful careers. They communicate the merits of integrity, civil behavior, and time management. Mentors also emphasize resilience for coping with disappointment, ways to support harmony, and the value of reflective thinking. The Computer Clubhouse Web site is available at http://

Most employers arrange conversations between new employees and colleague mentors but less attention is paid to the benefits of reverse mentoring. The concept of reverse mentoring calls for turning around the usual relationship in which an older person mentors a younger one. In effect, it requires role shifting, trading places. Reverse mentoring first became known because of an experiment at the General Electric Corporation. Jack Welch, Chief Executive Officer, realized that he along with his fellow senior executives were unfamiliar with the tools of technology needed for effective communication in the cyber era. Instead of the management officials being sent back to school or providing expensive training programs for them. Welch paired 500 of his top leaders with younger workers who had recently joined the company.

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