An opportunity with adolescence

By Maria Libby | Dec 06, 2016

As most parents know, and as the media has reported thoroughly of late, adolescence is a time of significant growth, and sometimes angst, that lasts a lot longer than it used to. Children are entering puberty at younger ages and leaving the nest at older ages. This is a critical developmental stage for people because it often lays the foundation of who they become as adults in our community. That is part of the reason schools pay so much attention to social and emotional well-being as well as academic. Most of us have strong memories of our adolescence, and those memories are often filled with some element of risk-taking. Adolescence is a time when rules are pushed, freedoms explored, and adventure seemingly around every corner. During adolescence, we feel things more deeply than at other times in our lives, whether that is joy, love, heartbreak, or fear.

One of my goals as superintendent is to embrace this stage of life within our schools and to capitalize on it. When I think about adolescence, I think about the opportunity we have. The opportunity to structure learning so that it satiates some of their need for risk seeking. The opportunity to appeal to their deep emotions in a way that invests them in learning by focusing on topics that really interest them. The opportunity to teach them that life is all about trying, failing, getting back up, and trying again. One of the best books I have ever read on this subject is "The Age of Opportunity," by Laurence Steinberg, and after the New Year we will be introducing this book as a community book read. Steinberg is one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence and I had the opportunity to see him speak last year. The workshop was exceptional. The Five Town CSD board members read and discussed this book over the summer and wanted to bring it to a wider community reading. I encourage any parent in our K-12 system to read the book as well as any community member who wants to better understand the adolescent years or who is simply interested in education and the work we are doing in our school system. We will have a community book read discussion about the book in March.

Another upcoming event for parents that focuses on adolescents will be this Wednesday evening in Strom Auditorium. Melissa Fernald, a mother and counselor who presents nationally, has a program entitled, “High and Seek”, designed to support adults in increasing awareness to promote the early detection of teen drug use before addictions or other serious issues develop. The evening is designed for parents only and is not appropriate for teens. I noted concerns regarding alcohol and drug use in our community in an article earlier this fall. We are working with a variety of community groups to address the issue and target drug prevention, but as I have said before, we really need parents to help with this effort. Please consider coming to this event on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m. in the Strom Auditorium at the high school. Even if you think it doesn’t apply to your child, please come. No one can afford to think it doesn’t apply to their child!

One final thought about adolescents — we can all boost their growth during this time if we remember that they are princes behind the façades of frogs. They appreciate a parent’s hug, a shopkeeper’s casual conversation, a teacher’s word of encouragement, and the opportunity to lend a helping hand, even if they act like they don’t! The investment we make in youth will pay huge dividends in our communities and society.

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