Head of School Blog

Reshaping Adolescence

Jill Singleton
“What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents’ basement?” This question was posed by Alison Gopnik in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?” Do you have younger children and not think this is relevant? Ha! Before you know it, you’ll be managing the same choppy waters, because the onset of puberty is happening at an earlier age than ever before. “What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later?” Gopnik considers before answering her own question: “A good deal of teenage weirdness.” This hormonal shift, along with the emotional and motivational realities that part of the exciting ride, has implications for parenting and schools that cannot be overlooked. Long gone are the days when children had no choice but to practice the skills of being a grown up, such as helping around the home or in the fields, or conducting an apprenticeship to develop a skill. According to Gopnik, children “often don’t do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared.” Adolescents depend on real-world cause-and-effect experiences – the ability to set a goal and learn from the experiences along the way – in order to develop their control system. One of Gopnik’s suggestions as to what we can do to foster the child’s developing brain especially resonated with me: “Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision.” I firmly believe we’re on the right track at All Saints. Here are just a few aspects of our program that support brain development that will lead to happy, productive, focused adults:

1. We talk about the real problems of the world and take action through a variety of service projects to make a difference. Empty Bowls, Sandwich Squad, drives for the homeless, and Youth Rocks Out! are just a few examples.
2. The Responsive Classroom system used throughout our school has children consider their individual impact on their classroom community and to experience logical consequences when a rule is broken.
3. Guest speakers are invited in to talk to students about their jobs and the evolution of their individual career paths.
4. Students engage in goal-setting in a variety of ways at different age levels, and are encouraged to self-reflect on a daily basis.
5. Beginning in Middle School, parent conferences are student-led, putting the student at the center of the discussion, accounting for their performance and identifying strategies for improvement and support that are needed.
6. In Community Time Assembly, students practice mindful meditation, helping them to develop a sense of inner calm and control.

As a mother of two teenagers, I couldn’t agree with Gopnik more: “The good news, in short, is that we don’t have to just accept the developmental patterns of adolescent brains. We can actually shape and change them.”

To read the full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html

Thoughts, questions, ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com