I recently read an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal. Titled What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?, the article discussed the evolution of puberty as a stage in the human existence. Developmental psychologists and neuroscientists have teamed up to help us understand more about the “teen” years.
There are two systems that that interact during the transition from childhood to adulthood – one system has to do with emotion and motivation, and the other with control. As many of us know from our own experiences, puberty is physically coming at a younger age today than it did in past generations. That means that our little Ospreys are likely to begin puberty during their years at MBS.
In terms of the emotion/motivation systems, recent research from Cornell University suggests that adolescents over-estimate rewards and have very active reward centers. While it appears they love taking risks, what perhaps they really love are the rewards – particularly if the reward is associated with peers. Thus, when teens in a study at Temple University simulated a high risk driving situation while undergoing a functional MRI, the reward system of their brains lit up like a Christmas tree. The lights were even more active when they were told that another teen was watching them drive!
Our control systems come “online” at a later stage in development, and are strengthened with practice. The prefrontal cortex guides planning and decision making and inhibits impulses. By literally learning from our mistakes, we strengthen the brain’s ability to engage in long term planning and delay of gratification.
In the past, these two systems of motivation and control were largely in step developmentally. Older children (today’s young teens) had greater responsibility, more chores, and even internships. They learned through practice, often under the guidance and direction of an adult. Today puberty kicks in sooner, with all the intensity of motivation and emotion. Our systems of guidance and control, however, are under-developed.
One way to mediate this “out of sync” development is to give our young teens more opportunities for guided practice with real world opportunities. Our efforts to honor student voice are doing just that. When Ms. Millham works with the recycling committee, or I help the Daffodillys or “80′s” dance committee to organize an event, the students are learning what it takes to tackle a real world job. They are making posters, doing the math calculations, creating public service “speeches” for the intercom, and tallying up profits.
While this is one small step, we have seen how giving our Ospreys some real responsibilities has helped them to mature. We appreciate all the support you give us as we work to honor “student voice” in our school.
Tags : development, students, teens
Categories : Uncategorized