This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report which is available on the MIT website (links provided below the post).

“An extraordinary body of research exists on the powerful ways in which parents and families make a difference in the lives of teens. Yet, little of this knowledge has been reaching the media, policymakers, practitioners, and parents.”

Dr Rae Simpson, Director of the MIT WorkLife Center

The 10 Tasks of Adolescence

There are 10 major adjustments that need to happen as a child moves through adolescence towards becoming an adult.

  1. Adjust to maturing bodies and feelings – Teens are faced with adjusting to bodies that as much as double in size and that acquire sexual characteristics, as well as learning to manage the accompanying biological changes and sexual feelings and to engage in healthy sexual behaviours. Their task also includes establishing a sexual identity and developing the skills for romantic relationships.
  2. Develop and apply abstract thinking skills – Teens typically undergo profound changes in their way of thinking during adolescence, allowing them more effectively to understand and coordinate abstract ideas, to think about possibilities, to try out hypotheses, to think ahead, to think about thinking, and to construct philosophies.
  3. Develop and apply a more complex level of perspective taking – Teens typically acquire a powerful new ability to understand human relationships, in which, having learned to “put themselves in another person’s shoes,” they learn to take into account both their perspective and another person’s at the same time, and to use this new ability in resolving problems and conflicts in relationships.
  4. Develop and apply new coping skills in areas such as decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution – Related to all these dramatic shifts, teens are involved in acquiring new abilities to think about and plan for the future, to engage in more sophisticated strategies for decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution, and to moderate their risk taking to serve goals rather than jeopardise them.
  5. Identify meaningful moral standards, values, and belief systems – Building on these changes and resulting skills, teens typically develop a more complex understanding of moral behavior and underlying principles of justice and care, questioning beliefs from childhood and adopting more personally meaningful values, religious views, and belief systems to guide their decisions and behavior.
  6. Understand and express more complex emotional experiences – Also related to these changes are shifts for teens toward an ability to identify and communicate more complex emotions, to understand the emotions of others in more sophisticated ways, and to think about emotions in abstract ways.
  7. Form friendships that are mutually close and supportive – Although youngsters typically have friends throughout childhood, teens generally develop peer relationships that play much more powerful roles in providing support and connection in their lives. They tend to shift from friendships based largely on the sharing of interests and activities to those based on the sharing of ideas and feelings, with the development of mutual trust and understanding.
  8. Establish key aspects of identity – Identity formation is in a sense a lifelong process, but crucial aspects of identity are typically forged at adolescence, including developing an identity that reflects a sense of individuality as well as connection to valued people and groups. Another part of this task is developing a positive identity around gender, physical attributes, sexuality, and ethnicity and, if appropriate, having been adopted, as well as sensitivity to the diversity of groups that make up American society.
  9. Meet the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities – Teens gradually take on the roles that will be expected of them in adulthood, learning to acquire the skills and manage the multiple demands that will allow them to move into the labor market, as well as to meet expectations regarding commitment to family, community, and citizenship.
  10. Renegotiate relationships with adults in parenting roles – Although the task of adolescence has sometimes been described as “separating” from parents and other caregivers, it is more widely seen now as adults and teens working together to negotiate a change in the relationship that accommodates a balance of autonomy and ongoing connection, with the emphasis on each depending in part on the family’s ethnic background.

The 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents

What role do parents play in helping teenagers make these 10 adjustments?

The Raising Teens Project identified 5 significant ways in which parents can influence healthy adolescent development:

  1. Love and Connect – Offer support and acceptance while affirming the teen’s increasing maturity.
  2. Monitor and Observe – Let teens know you are paying attention.
  3. Guide and Limit – Uphold clear boundaries while encouraging increased competence.
  4. Model and Consult – Provide continual support for decision making, teaching by example and ongoing dialogue.
  5. Provide and Advocate – Provide a supportive home environment and a network of caring adults.

This post is a summary of the MIT Raising Teens report that can be found here: MIT Raising Teens. Learn about the 5 Basics of Parenting Adolescents here.

The basic freedom we have in life is the freedom to make mistakes.  If we can’t make (reasonable) mistakes and learn from them, what freedom do we really have?

“The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My girlfriend likes to say: “The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My daughter is 8.  She is starting to develop the ability to be guilty about something, and expresses anxieties about the world like never before.  I assume this is a normal part of the growing up.  She has a powerful creative imagination and it can develop some pretty powerful scary future scenarios.  She hears about a plane crash and imagines her family on that plane.  She hears about a boat sinking and imagines her family on that boat.  She does something that hurts her friend (accidentally) and now spends 15 minutes feeling guilty and wallowing in the sadness.

Slaves to Guilt?

The limit on our freedom in most western societies has nothing to do with rules or laws or police.  It has to do with guilt, and imagined potential guilt.  Animals have a freedom in that they don’t lay awake at night painfully reliving their mistakes of the day and reliving the crap in a self-destructive guilty wallowing.

The first time you try anything, you should not be able to feel guilty.  I am able to feel guilty about certain things when just imagining them… and then feeling guilty that I even imagined it.  This then puts me in a crappy mood and I give up all efforts to be a better version of myself.

Sometimes it would be good to fall sleep with the guiltless calm of a dog or a cat.  A deer watches another deer being caught by lions without dwelling on the idea: “it could be me.”

Accident or Benefit?

I wonder whether guilt and anxiety are evolutionary advantages or they are accidents that came with the enlarged frontal cortex?  Our ability to imagine the future and plan how we will meet challenges is no doubt a powerful survival advantage.  The agonising feelings of anxiety, of low self worth, of being “bad”, of guilt – do they help?  Maybe they help us survive, but they do not help us thrive.

With my daughter, I don’t try to tell her to not feel the anxiety or the guilt.  What she feels is real.  I loved a conversation she had with a wise 11 year old.  My daughter asked “what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?”  The older girl replied “I don’t find that a good thing to think about…  I prefer to ask what is the best thing that has happened.”  The older girl has a great imagination but has learnt to direct her imagination towards the positive.  It doesn’t mean that she ignores reality, but it does mean that she doesn’t wallow in the negative feelings of what could go wrong.

Life can be scary and bad things do happen.  We cannot pretend that this is not the case.

We can cultivate the belief that we are resourceful and when we face challenges we will do the best that we can do – but we don’t have to spend our hours, days and years preparing for every horrific potential scenario.

Are you a parent who has seen a child face anxieties and feelings of guilt?  How have you helped them deal with these uncomfortable feelings?

 

“What if a writer is trying to tell a story and nothing much happens, nothing is resolved…”

How to Tell A Boring Story

Use: “and then this happened”.

The essential ingredient of a boring (it is going nowhere) story is the “and then this happened”…  “and then this happened”…  “and then this happened” structure.

There is no conflict.  

It is a laundry list of stuff happening… there is no sense of tension building and the listener getting curious and wondering about what is going to happen.

All good stories are a variation of: “Once there was a problem, but then it was resolved”

How to Make Story Engaging

Use lots of “but…” and “therefore…”  Check out the video below – it claims to have stolen the idea from Orson Wells, but I think ideas are meant to be stolen and shared.

PS I came across this gem from Nick Morgan’s blog the secrets of good storytelling.

Resources:  Check it out on vimeo: F for Fake (1973) – How to Structure a Video Essay from Tony Zhou

David William wrote this post at Lifehack, but I find that I have gone back a couple of times now to find these questions.  I was on a bike ride along Tibidabo mountain last night with my daughter (8) and I asked her a couple of these questions.  I get some profound answers.

Jim Collins says that we should be constantly increasing our Questions to Answers ratio.  A question means I am open and curious and learning.  An answer is saying what I already know.

Here are the 15 questions that David shared:

15 Questions that Create Profound Discussions with my Daughter

  1. 4026524974_829edb326f_oWhat five words do you think best describe you?
  2. What do you love doing that makes you feel happiest?
  3. What do you know how to do that you can teach others?
  4. What is the most wonderful/worst thing that ever happened to you?
  5. What did you learn from the best/worst thing that’s happened to you?
  6. Of all the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?
  7. If you could travel back in time three years and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
  8. What are you most grateful for?
  9. What do you think that person feels?
  10. What do you think your life will be like in the future?
  11. Which of your friends do you think I’d like the most? Why?
  12. If you could grow up to be famous, what would you want to be famous for?
  13. How would you change the world if you could?
  14. How can you help someone today?
  15. If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make? Why?

More on The Art of Good Questions