I’m starting a new video series based upon my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (ASCD). This is the first video, entitled ”The Passion and Promise of the Teenage Years.” For those of you who prefer to read a transcript rather than watch the video, I’ve provided an adapted version of the video that you can read, below:
Video 1: The Passion and Promise of the Teenage Years
Welcome to my video series on the adolescent brain. This series is based upon my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students. In this first video, we’re going to take a look at adolescence as a stage of life, and examine how it has been viewed throughout history. The word adolescence comes from the Latin word ‘’adolescere’’ which means ‘’to grow to maturity’’ – which, of course, is what we want to have happen during the teen years. And just to let you know that our concerns about adolescents aren’t new, here’s a quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates by his disciple Plato over two thousand years ago:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Similarly, Plato’s disciple Aristotle had this to say about adolescents: “The young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.“ I wonder if Aristotle himself in his teen years was a discipline problem for his teacher Plato!
Four hundred years ago, the English playwright William Shakespeare interjected what might have been his own personal attitude about adolescence into his play Winter’s Tale:
‘’I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting–Hark you now! Would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather? ‘’
For many thousands of years, indigenous cultures around the world have understand what a handful adolescents are and have developed rituals or what are called ‘’rites of passage’’ that take young teens through what are often quite brutal challenges in order to transition them into the adult world. In this historical photo, taken from Joseph Campbell’s Historical Atlas of World Mythology, you see some young aboriginal men from Australia being initiated by having to lie down under the hot sun for hours and maybe even days while stinging insects swarm over them. You’ll see some with white stakes near their heads. They are the ones who didn’t make it, who died during the ritual.
The good news is that we don’t have these brutal rites of passage anymore in post-industrial cultures like ours. Instead, we have vestiges of older rites like the quinceanera or celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday in Latin American cultures, or the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in Jewish cultures, or the high school graduation and all night party in many communities around the United States. The bad news is that because the element of risk-taking is gone from most of these contemporary rites, adolescents try to fill in the gap by creating their own rites, by, for example, going through gang initiation ritual ceremonies, or engaging in drug use, binge drinking, or other risky practices.
This all comes back to the adolescent brain and how it’s wired differently (and actually wired for risky behavior) for just these few years between twelve and twenty to prepare it for the future. We’ll look at risk-taking in adolescence more fully in a future video. Our understanding of the adolescent brain has undergone a fundamental shift only in the last few years. As late as the 1990’s, it was thought by scientists that the human brain was pretty much finished developing by the end of childhood. By the age of 10, the brain reaches the size of the adult brain and won’t get much bigger after that. But over the past twenty years neuroscientists have discovered dramatic changes going on inside the adolescent brain; changes that are designed by nature to prepare teenagers for the challenges of adulthood. In the next few videos we’re going to look at some of the major findings of this brain research and what they tell us about how we need to educate our teens in middle and high schools.
Again, if you’re interested in the issues I’ve raised in this video get my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.