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.

This is a guest post from Joyce Wilson.  Joyce is a retired teacher with decades of experience. I asked her to share her experiences about how parents can contribute to their kids thriving at school.  Joyce has created TeacherSpark.org to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.

Over to Joyce...

Top Tips to Help you Child Thrive in School (from a retired Teacher)

As a parent, one of your priorities is to support your child in ways that encourage academic success.  That success involves more than good grades and scholastic achievements.  It also includes a healthy social life, consisting of positive relationships with peers, teachers, parents, and others.  With some thoughtful considerations you can help your youngster to flourish in these important aspects.

  • Structure Daily Life
  • Designate a Study area
  • Eat Meals together
  • Stay involved
  • Encourage Friendships
  • Model Behaviour
  • Help your youngster thrive

Structure daily life

Providing structure to your child’s days is a key element to success in school.  As The Telegraph notes, a structured upbringing encourages success for children during their childhood as well as future adulthood.  Providing structure and routine encourages confidence and inspires better discipline as adults.  When they reach adulthood, children raised in a structured lifestyle are more apt to be able to find employment, find direction in life, and remain hopeful about their futures.

Designate a study area

Establishing a place and time for homework is a great way to encourage structure and success in your child’s school life.  Allow your child to help decide where she or he will work, which will give your youngster ownership in the decision.  Create a designated workspace based on your kid’s input.  Chicago Parent recommends organizing the area with an assortment of school supplies so everything your child needs is at hand.  If space is at a premium, consider purchasing a corner desk. Corner desks don’t take up much room, yet still provide your youngster with an appropriate place to study.

Eat meals together

While it may seem unrelated, one of the most important activities you can do to support your child is eating together as a family.  According to some researchers, families that spend time together preparing and eating meals encourages children to do well in school in many ways.  Kids who experience family mealtime develop better vocabularies, higher self-esteem, and have healthier eating habits.  They are also less inclined to abuse substances such as drugs or alcohol.

Stay involved

It’s vital to talk with your children in order to hone in on any issues with their social life or school work.  Ask your child open-ended questions, like, “What happened today that made you happy?”  And ask, “What homework assignments do you have?”  Staying on top of things through these simple queries tells your child you are interested and supportive.  If you feel there is a problem, don’t overreact.  Get all the facts first.  When warranted, reach out to teachers for assistance with school assignments, low grades or other issues.

Encourage friendships

A healthy social life, along with good communication and coping skills begins very early in life.  In fact, some studies show that preschool friendships help kids to start developing emotional and social skills while increasing their sense of belonging and reducing their stress levels.  By interacting with their peers and with other adults, kids gain a foundation they will use for the rest of their lives.  It’s through those childhood relationships children begin to understand the importance of seeing other people’s viewpoints, learning the unwritten rules of conversation, and age-appropriate social behaviors.  Friendships also have tremendous influence over a child’s school performance and encourage or discourage socially unacceptable behavior.  The evidence is so strong that friendships can help children flourish, some school systems are going out of their way to place children in classes with friends.

Model behavior

Your child looks to you for how to act, so being a good role model is extremely important.  Nurturing your own friendships will send a positive message to your children, and modeling good relationship skills provides examples for your child.  Look for teachable moments.  You can share how you feel about a situation, or help your youngster label feelings by asking questions like, “When the butterfly died, that make you feel sad?”

Help your youngster thrive

There are things you can do as a parent to encourage your child’s success, both academically and socially.  Provide structure, stay involved, and demonstrate healthy behaviors.  Your child can flourish with thoughtfully chosen parenting strategies.

About Joyce Wilson

Joyce Wilson is a retired teacher with decades of experience. Today, she is a proud grandmom and mentor to teachers in her local public school system. She and a fellow retired teacher created TeacherSpark.org to share creative ideas and practical resources for the classroom.

Image courtesy of Pixabay