Students from Pretoria West High School want to wear skinny pants as part of their school uniforms. Picture: Bongani Shilulbane/ANA
The tension between the so-called grown-ups and teenagers is as old as humankind. Parents of teenage children have from the beginning of time had to manage youngsters who felt misunderstood and “treated like children” and adults who believed modern children were worse than them when they were of the same age.

And so the tension at Hoërskool Pretoria West where pupils demanded the right to wear skinny pants instead of the standard size cut, has to be understood in that context if a long-term and constructive resolution is to be reached. This week’s agreement by parents to back the school management in keeping the pants standard should therefore not be the end of the matter.

In many ways, the skinny pants saga is a snapshot of relations between adults and teenagers in virtually all areas of life, including in families.

Instead of thinking of the episode as an act of delinquency, the school community must see this as a learning and teaching opportunity for all concerned. They must see this as an opportunity to be open to future discussions about matters that affect the school.

It is obvious from the pupils’ actions that they do not feel adequately respected and their opinions taken to heart. It is apparent from the responses of the parents and teachers that the children do not fully appreciate the benefits of order and symbols of discipline.

Teachers and parents must remember that teenagers have opinions about the world and will push boundaries and the pupils must realise that the world is run on rules, some of them without clear reasons for existence, but nevertheless needing to be complied with.

We hope that the entire school community will use the experience to map out strategies that address the pupils' need to feel heard and respected and to place on them the obligation to see the necessary role of authority. If they do it right, the school and pupils might teach and learn about life lessons in a way that no textbook ever could.

* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is editor of The Mercury. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom