There is nothing better than reading or hearing about research and then being able to witness the findings yourself.
On Wednesday evening, with thanks to our Parents Association, St. Clement’s School hosted Dr. Laurence Steinberg to speak to our community and many guests. Steinberg is one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, a distinguished professor and the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University. While Steinberg has been the author of approximately 400 articles and essays and the author or editor of 17 books on development during the teenage years, he spoke specifically of his latest book, The Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence.
Steinberg’s book is excellent, and I strongly recommend it. What I greatly appreciated was his optimistic view of adolescence. While Steinberg acknowledges that this stage of development is a complex time, he stresses that it is also a time when we should be focused on assisting our students or children to develop self-control, as research has found it to be the one of the most important contributors to success and well-being. Steinberg explained that in ‘strengthening self-control, we will not only increase success, we will prevent unnecessary tragedies for our children.’
What resonated most for me was that in order to develop strong self-control, one must expose the brain to new and difficult things; however, one must recognize the difference between stress and challenge. As Steinberg explains it, stress is the result of facing something that we can’t do and have no control over, whereas we are challenged when we are facing something that we can do but haven’t done before. It is of paramount importance that, as educators and parents, we recognize the difference and that ultimately our adolescents do as well.
I write this blog having just returned from a visit with an alumna of 2015 who was recruited for track at Columbia University in New York City. As you can imagine, in order to be successful in her academics, and particularly in her training and competing, she requires a tremendous amount of self-control. As I caught up with her this morning, what I appreciated most was her tremendous ability to reflect, to consciously challenge herself to step out of her comfort zone, and to understand that she will achieve growth from setbacks. I felt, after our visit, that I was witnessing evidence of Steinberg’s work and was proud of Sarah.