The current October edition of National Geographic has an interesting article on the ‘teenage brain’. I do not usually buy this magazine but waiting for ferries in Hong Kong, and the incredibly inexpensive cover price compared with Australia, has led me to buy a couple recently for articles of ongoing interest.
The New Science of the Teenage Brain does not tell educators anything completely new, if you have been paying attention for the last couple of years, but it does illustrate our new understandings about the workings of the brain with some very real anecdotes and stories about teenagers growing up today. This “adaptive-adolescent story” emphasises that the teen as an “exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside”.
…the [teen] hunt for sensation provides the inspiration needed to “get you out of the house” and into new terrain…
This is a difficult challenge for educators (and parents), especially when our systems place students in an environment that is extremely repetitive and highly risk averse. It is not surprising that many students disengage with formal schooling, finding the experience deadening. What will come as a relief for many, reading this article, is that, “contrary to popular belief, they also fully recognize they’re mortal…(and) actually overestimate risk”. The author’s anecdote, about his son’s ‘reckless driving’ charge, is amusing and illustrative of this point:
“It’s just not accurate,” he said calmly. “ ’Reckless’ sounds like you’re not paying attention. But I was. I made a deliberate point of doing this on an empty stretch of dry interstate, in broad daylight, with good sight lines and no traffic. I mean, I wasn’t just gunning the thing. I was driving.
So why are teenagers attracted to risky business? In an evolutionary sense, the answer is very important. Teenagers value rewards more heavily than adults do and give ”more weight to the payoff.” “Excitement, novelty, risk, the company of peers” are:
…traits that define adolescence make us more adaptive, both as individuals and as a species…
My own thoughts revolve around the nature of the ‘rewards’ that schools/teachers sometimes (in our closed, restrictive educational environments) offer to students to motivate them. How can we use this latest research to adapt? How can we provide a more stimulating learning spaces or rather, how can we have students ‘out of school’ more often, in learning environments of their own choosing?
I encourage you to read the article and draw some conclusions (and it would be great if you could comment and share here) from the perspective of educator and/or parent.