Books We Love: The Age of Opportunity

With mountains of new research coming out on adolescent development, it was a pleasure to read Laurence Steinberg's terrific new book, "Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence," which summarizes much of the latest thinking on how the brain develops during adolescence. He finds a good balance between presenting the scientific data and telling individual stories, and the result is a compelling picture of how to create the best environments for adolescents at home and in school. We'll probably post a second blog entry on this given the density of useful information here, but here's a quick takeaway of some of his key points:

  • "Adolescence is the new zero to three." Beyond infancy, adolescence is the only other time when the brain is as "plastic," or open to change. This cuts both ways: "the discovery that the brain is highly plastic during adolescence is good news in principle, but it is only good news if we take advantage of it, by providing the sorts of experiences to young people that will facilitate positive development and protecting them from experiences."
  • The key is self-regulation. More than any other skill developed at this age, "self-regulation" - the awareness and control over our thoughts, emotions, and behavior - is the most correlated to students' success in life. Research shows that by age 16, adolescents reach the cognitive capacity of adults - but only when they are calm and focused, or as he calls, in "cold cognition." The challenge is that adolescents are far more prone to distraction, emotional arousal, or pressure, leading to the poor judgment we see in "hot cognition." If they've developed strong self-regulation skills, they have access to excellent judgment - but without self-regulation, they could have deep intellectual capacity that they aren't able to use. 
  • Self-regulation is trainable. He presents five methods that research has demonstrated to be effective in building self-regulation: (1) mindfulness practices, like meditation; (2) aerobic exercise; (3) mindful physical activity like yoga and martial arts; (4) teaching executive functioning skills; (4) teaching self-awareness and self-control, particularly through social-emotional learning (SEL). 

We were excited to see the parallels between his recommendations and the model we're building for Millennium. We're incorporating mindfulness meditation, designing a wellness program built around yoga and aikido, will have aerobic PE time every day, and have a strong focus on teaching social-emotional intelligence and executive functioning skills. It's encouraging to see that these principles are leaving the realm of "touchy-feely," and increasingly seen as more predictive of long-term success than any other factor. 

[References: Steinberg, Laurence (2014-09-09). Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence (pages 11, 155, 202). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.]

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