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20 Things Educators Need To Know about Adolescents
The diversity among adolescents is staggering. In the human lifespan, the period we define as adolescents ( 13-19) is characterized by the widest range of differences between one human being and another.
Timing and pacing of adolescent maturation is uneven and unpredictable. Although social, emotional, physical, intellectual and identity aspects of development influence each other, they each have a different timetable within the same individual. Sudden shifts in kid’s personalities, behaviors, attitudes, and habits are normal.
The second most significant growth spurt in the brain ( first between birth and age 3 ) occurs during adolescents. The synapses in the brain can double in number in one year of adolescence. The overproduction of synapses in the brain can make it difficult to keep track of multiple thoughts and retrieve information quickly. The great news is that teens can re-pattern behavior, learn new skills and habits, and make significant changes in how they operate day to day. Think of the teenage brain from a “use it or lose it” perspective: by age 18 the brain starts losing neurons that are not hardwired by experience- it is called “pruning” and it allows the brain to function more efficiently. The brain nourishes what it uses and tosses away what it doesn’t.
the frontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to mature! It is the CEO of the brain, in charge of executive functions like planning, organizing, setting priorities, making sound and well informed judgements, assessing risk, managing and defusing intense and out of control emotions. The brains circuit board is not completed until the mid-twenties!! Consequently, adolescents’ judgement is highly erratic and they are capable of making extraordinarily good judgments and really bad ones.
The corpus callosum, which is linked to self-awareness and intelligence, continues to develop until the mid-twenties, hence many young people are late bloomers.
Serotonin ( a neurotransmitter ) is responsible for inducing relaxation, regulating moods, and regulating sleep. Generally women have 20-40% more of this stuff then men. However, during the teen years, levels of serotonin decline for both sexes, creating conditions that can increase impulsive behavior.
Under the influence of enormous hormonal changes, teenagers rely more on the emotional center (amygdala ) in the limbic system than on the reason center in the cortex. The amygdala is reeved up, in hyper-drive, and intense feelings like anger, fear, and elation are normal and frequent. It captures and stores emotionally intense moments.
Kids learn best in a state of “relaxed alertness” or “un- anxious anticipation”. Emotional turmoil can hijack kids to the land of “not-learn.” Transitions and practices that help students shift gears and get “brain ready” for learning are crucial.
Strong emotional connections with teachers, the subject, or the task generate learning with more “sticking power” related to memory, retention, comprehension, and application. The good news is that tapping into students excitement, anticipation, laughter, surprise and sense of well-being and competency increases learning. The bad news is that negative feelings about a teacher or specific type of learning task will stay with students way beyond the initial event and influence future learning.
New experiences with an element of risk, thrill, uncertainty, or danger stimulate neurons that release dopamine which produces feelings of intense pleasure. So how can we package the intense experiences that kids crave minus the life-threatening price tag? Physical play, sport, dance, all kinds of movement harness and release positive emotions and serve as a healthy outlet for emotional as well as sexual energy. Experiential education, high and low ropes courses and outdoor education can all help us in this area with teens. Doing these kinds of activities with ADULTS is also critical because often this age group is segregated from the adults who teach them!! ( A suggestion- go eat lunch with them in the cafeteria every once in a while and listen to what they are into!! )
Between 10-15% of adolescents experience mild to severe depression. This means that at any given time 3 or 4 kids can be walking into your class depressed. Make sure you see these changes and support these young people. Adolescents are not really thinking about what you are in schools?
Teens biological clocks are different. Melatonin levels are elevated in the early part of the school day- the brain is saying: “It’s nighttime.” At the end of the day teens are not chemically ready for bed until around 11 pm. Yet teens require more sleep than adults ( 8 to 9 hours ). Sleep is brain food! So, adults…. Why do we still start high-school so early????
Both sexes experience surges of testosterone during adolescents- ego, aggression, hostility and irritability increase. This is normal.
Kid’s social skills and interpersonal effectiveness actually decline in early and middle adolescence before they become increasingly competent at navigating new social settings, new kinds of relationships, and new social expectations. Modeling, practicing and teaching social skills is essential for kids 13 to 15.
Kids who behave aggressively over a long period of time share 4 things in common:
They are unable to identify their own emotions, “read” the feelings of others, or empathize with the target of their aggression.
They have difficulty predicting the consequences of their actions
Aggression is the only tool in their tool box-( guess where that came from) and they do not know alternative responses
They tend to attribute hostile intentions to new people they encounter.
16. THE JOB DESCRIPTION OF ALL ADOLESCENTS INCLUDES QUESTIONING AND CHALLENGING AUTHORITY. Authoritarian (Enforcers) teachers who use their power over students are more likely to trigger responses of hostility and defiance than efforts to cooperate.
17.Adolescent “frequent flyers” – kids who experience chronic academic and behavioral difficulties, are least likely to respond positively and productively to punishment. In fact a punitive approach to discipline usually escalates feelings of anger, hostility, alienation, and rejection of already troubled young people.
18.Reluctant, resistant, and failing students who “turn it around” cite two factors that enable them to get back on track:
A long-term positive relationship with a positive adult ( teacher )
Learning experiences that are personally meaningful and involve multiple ways of knowing, understanding, and demonstrating what they learn.
19. Distressingly, the gap between successful and unsuccessful students actually increases between 9th and 12th grade. Educators….we need to change this!!!
20.Adolescents present us many opportunities to influence their lives in very positive ways. They question adult norms and beliefs- and their radar is ultrasensitive to hypocrisy! What a great time to get the privilege to teach!!!