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Mindful : June 2014
48 mindful June 2014 neuroscience that adolescence is something we all just need to endure is very limiting. To the contra ry, adolescents don’t just need to survive adolescence; they can thrive because of this importa nt period of their lives. What do I mean by this? A central idea that we’ll discuss is that, in very key ways, the “work” of adolescence—the testing of bounda ries, the passion to explore what is unknown and exciting— can lay the stage for the development of core character traits that will enable adolescents to go on to lead great lives of adventure and purpose. Strive for Total Independence A third myth is that growing up during adolescence requires moving from dependence on adults to total inde- pendence from them. While there is a natural and necessary push toward independence from the adults who raised us, adolescents still benefit from rela- tionships with adults. The healthy move to adulthood is towa rd interdependence, not complete “do-it-yourself” isolation. The nature of the bonds that adolescents have with their parents as attachment figures changes, and friends become more important during this period. Ulti- mately, we learn to move from needing others’ care during childhood, to pushing away from our parents and other adults and learning to lean more on our peers during adolescence, to then learning to both give care and receive help from others. That ’s interdependence. When we get beyond the myths, we are able to see the real truths they mask, and life for adolescents, a nd the adults in their lives, gets a whole lot better. Unfortunately, what others believe about us can shape how we see ourselves and how we behave. This is especially true when it comes to teens and how they “receive” commonly held negative atti- tudes that ma ny adults project (whether directly or indirectly)—that teens are “out of control,” or “la zy” or “unfocused.” Studies show that when teachers were told that certain students had “limited intelligence,” these students performed worse than other students whose teach- ers were not simila rly informed. But when teachers were informed that these same students had exceptiona l abilities, the students showed marked improve- ment in their test scores. Adolescents who are absorbing negative messages about who they are and what is expected of them may sink to that level instead of realizing their true potential. Ado- lescence is not a period of being “cra zy” or “immature.” It is an essential time of emotional intensity, social engagement, and creativity. This is the essence of how we “ought” to be, of what we are capable of, and of what we need as individuals and as a human family. The Benefits and Challenges of Adolescence The essential features of adolescence emerge because of healthy, natura l changes in the brain. Since the brain influences both our minds and our rela- tionships, knowing about the brain can help us with our inner experience a nd our social connections to others. During the teen years, our minds change in the way we remember, think, reason, focus attention, ma ke decisions, and relate to others. From a round age twelve to twen- ty-four, there is a burst of growth and maturation taking place as never before in our lives. Understanding the nature of these changes can help us create a more positive and productive life journey. Life is on fire when we hit our teens. While the adolescent years may be → Casey Oparowski, 18 Girls get distor ted ideas of how they’re supposed to look and act, the roles they’re supposed to play. It’s sad. I can’t speak for ever yone, but I’ve felt like if I don’t do something profound or have a claim to fame I don’t matter that much. I have to earn being valued. But shouldn’t we just see that inherently we are all valuable? I feel like teens’ natural curiosity gets pushed down. We’re not encouraged to explore for ourselves, but just accept the truth—but the “ truth” we’re getting is mixed up. I left high school and star ted going to a homeschooling co-op. I’ve been creating my own curriculum, studying a lot by myself, and doing workshops. I do theatre, and I’m interning for a publishing company. I do graphic design and social media stuff there. I can totally credit the teen retreats for teaching me how to feel without being ashamed of what I’m feeling. If I can settle down my mind and see my direct experience—and also see what kind of stories I put onto those experiences, what opinions and beliefs—I can see past them. I can see that they aren’t true. I’ve witnessed it in so many other teens at the retreats. When people become conscious of what’s actually happening, without any sugarcoating, letting go of opinions and biases, just looking at things as they actually are, that’s where change star ts. ● 3