Head of School Blog

The Misunderstood World of Adolescents

Jill Singleton
Middle School students had the pleasure of hosting teachers, parents, grandparents, board and vestry members, elected officials, local clergy, business owners, police officers, and community leaders this week for our Youth Leadership Summit. This annual celebration marks the end of our Month of the Young Adolescent (MOTYA) observance which this year focused on “healthy hangouts.”

Over the years, people have expressed surprise when learning that I have a passion for working with middle school students. I’m always taken aback by their reaction, and am reminded that children between the ages of 10 and15 might be some of the most misunderstood people on the planet.

According to Dr. Patrick Tolan, a professor at the University of Virginia, recognized internationally as an authority on adolescence and families, “There is a troubling bias that most adults hold about adolescents…this bias is our insistence upon seeing adolescence only as a time of great problems, of alienating and alienated personalities, and viewing younger adolescents in particular as trouble waiting to explode but for our careful watch and strong control. We overlook their capability and vigor for self-management and incorrectly view them as in emotional overdrive, unable to apply judgment, consider others or see the future impact of what they do.”
Tolan and many other researchers point out that this bias is all wrong. The truth is that more than 40 years of scientific research has shown that children in this age group actually seek to be successful in every aspect of their lives – at school, at home and in their communities. As Dr. Tolan points out, “most are working to make the most of opportunities, to be responsible and to begin exploring what it will mean to be an adult.”

When I reflect back on my own adolescence, I remember feeling the sting of this bias. I imagine that many of you do, too. Don’t you remember brimming with ideas, feeling intense passion about your beliefs, and believing that anything is possible? Don’t you recall being able to see injustice for what it is and being unafraid to name it? If your adolescence was anything like mine, you may remember feeling that despite these insights, some adults were dismissive of your ideas as, well, “adolescent,” and therefore unworthy of serious consideration. Worse, you may have felt deeply misunderstood, or unappreciated, and may have been confused about how you would ever grow comfortable in your own skin and ease your way into adulthood.

Our students worked hard all month to shape their thoughts and messages for the people who attended their Leadership Summit, and it is my pleasure to share a bit of their work with you here. Please spend a few minutes viewing this slideshow designed to capture students views of themselves, their perceptions on how others view them, and their hopes and dreams for the future. (The password to view the video is websafe.)


Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com

MOTYA 2013 Video from All Saints Day School on Vimeo.