Benchmarks for Healthy Adolescent Social and Emotional Development by Kate Ramsdell, Interim Dean of Students
In 2004, when I was a Class I Dean, we embarked on a review of the Class I and II years. For 18 months, a group of faculty studied the latter half of the Nobles experience, and we finished by offering recommendations to the school about how we might make changes to our program in response to our own sense of mission, the changing needs of our increasingly diverse student population, and the shifting landscape in post-secondary education. Some of these recommendations actually continue to shape the Nobles program today.
Almost a decade has passed since that study, and so we’ve reconvened a group with a similar charge. We’re in the information gathering stage, which is incredibly interesting, in part because Nobles is such a dynamic community.
During the third week in January, Mark Spence, director of counseling, and I had the opportunity to present to the committee on issues of adolescent growth and development. The information we shared will, of course, serve as a lens through which we can discuss the data we gather, both quantitative and qualitative, that will help guide our decision-making process. Indeed, what is good and healthy for our youngest students inevitably changes as they approach graduation.
We focused largely on what makes for “healthy” adolescent social and emotional development, and so I thought I’d share a few ideas here this month. Some of these benchmarks will be old news to many of you, and others may be helpful reminders of why even the most delightful preteen may evolve into an ogre by, oh, right about now.
This information comes from research done by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:
• Normal, healthy adolescent development is uneven and out of sync.
• With the exception of infancy, this is a time where humans develop so much in such a short period of time.
• Emotional intensity is magnified by robust neurological development.
• It is typical to gain 50% of one’s adult body weight during the teen years.
• Adolescents become biologically capable of sexual reproduction; sexual identity solidifies between ages 15-19.
• Engagement with parent(s) declines.
• Connection with friends intensifies (new and changing friendships are common).
• The desire – and need – for independence grows.
• Empathy and concern for others increases.
• Ability to be self-reflective is developed, emotional steadiness increases, ability to compromise grows.
• Risk-taking behaviors emerge; rule and limit testing is common among adolescents.
• Competence, confidence, connection, character and caring should all be nurtured and developed.
• One’s larger community plays a fundamental role in the healthy transition from adolescence to adulthood.
One of the greatest benefits of being at Nobles, at least from my perspective, is that we try to keep our eye on all of these things, while purposefully serving as a part of the “larger community” that will help all of our students grow and develop in ways that will make that transition to healthy adulthood possible.
At the end of our discussion, Mark and I also outlined the potential “interrupters” to a healthy developmental trajectory from substance abuse, to grief that goes untreated, to mental or physical health issues that could delay one’s development.
Please remember that no matter what comes up, there are so many support systems and resources in place at Nobles to help both you and your child navigate the “uneven and out of sync” years. We’re all in it together, so please don’t feel you ever have to go it alone.