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Child Development Resource: New Science About Adolescence

Last week I caught this fascinating piece on NPR’s Here and Now with Professor Larry Steinberg of Temple University. Steinberg’s latest book is titled “Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence”, and it highlights all sorts of new findings coming out of research regarding adolescent brain development. It is also closely aligned with what I wrote about in a blog last month regarding the need for pre-teens to engage in healthy risk taking

Below are two of my favorite excerpts from Steinberg’s interview: 

On how education should change in light of his research’s findings:
“One thing that we should do in school is to focus more on what experts are referring to as non-cognitive skills and that would include things like perseverance, determination and grit. If you think about the challenge about becoming an adult now, you need to be able to stay in school for a very long time. You need to be able to stay in school through the completion of a four year college degree to get a decent-paying job, and that requires that we help young people develop the capacity to delay gratification and to persevere, even at tasks that they’re maybe not so crazy about.”
On the ‘opportunity’ of adolescents’ malleable brains
“One of the main themes of the book is that we’re discovering that the brain during adolescence is very malleable or very plastic. What that means is that the brain has a heightened capacity to change in response to experience. That cuts both ways: on the one hand it means that the brain is especially susceptible to toxic experiences that can harm it, but on the other hand it means that the brain is also susceptible to positive influences that can promote growth. That’s the kind of opportunity that I think we need to think about in relation to adolescence and it’s an opportunity I think we’re squandering.”

Yet again, research is backing up what we at summer camp have known for quite some time. Adoscelent brains crave risk taking, and that by presenting them with healthy options like rock climbing, team sports, and simply being away from home for extended periods of time, we provide them with an optimal learning environment that will shape their behaviors for a lifetime. Additionally, now more than ever, children need ample opportunities to acquire non-cognitive skills (also known as 21st century skills) such as grit, independence and critical problem solving, as they will be crucial for their success in both the academic and business world.

Below is Steinberg’s entire 15 minute interview, which I hope you find as fascinating as I did. After listening to it I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you agree with his findings, including that children are starting puberty earlier than they did a generation ago? Is adolescence lasting longer, and if so, why? Please join me in the discussion, especially if you have children in this age group.   

Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a 7-week brother-sister summer camp in Wilmot, NH. We are dedicated to providing our campers with the most developmentally impactful experience possible, so that they can be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. We are proud to be a child development resource to our parents, and the world. 

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