Teenagers rejoice! In the October issue of National Geographic, an article entitled Beautiful Brains reveals that many of the traits that cause you (and your parents) headaches and heartaches actually make you, from about age 10-25, some of the most adaptable individuals on the planet.
In a nutshell, the research shows that your love of excitement, novelty, risk, and the company of peers is not only normal, they are universal traits of adolescence. For some “these traits may seem to add up to nothing more than doing foolish new stuff with friends,” but for you—they help prepare you for life on your own.
Teens’ love of excitement and novelty, “sensation seeking”, peaks at age 15. The desire to meet new people and try new things can, theoretically, lead to negative outcomes (depending on the people and the things). Yet, in most cases, sensation seeking is a supremely beneficial trait: by seeking opportunities to meet other people in new situations—much like camp–you better prepare yourself for a world full of people who aren’t exactly like you. Thus, you create a rich pool of varied friends and relationships with your peers, and supportive, healthy adults outside of your immediate family.
Teenage risk-taking involves the most hand-wringing from their parents, and has recently been attributed to teens “undeveloped” brains. The article showed, however, “teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.” In many cases, the reward is recognition, acceptance and the admiration of their peers.
This “reward” may not seem substantial (especially if, as a parent, you are dealing with any sort of teenage—or tweenage—girl drama), yet teens “gravitate toward peers for another, more powerful reason: to invest in the future rather than the past.” We are born into a world made by our parents, but it is whether we can successfully create and remake our own world that matters…and we need good, healthy friends to help us do it. This reminded me of a story from one of our SOLE trips this summer.
Every day of the trip, staff members assigned certain “camp life” tasks to certain groups when they arrived at camp. Some campers would put up tents, others would hang the bear bag, while others would prep for and cook dinner. One day, the small group that was supposed to be hanging the bear bag was just hanging out. When asked about the bear bag, they replied, “Oh, we didn’t see how you put it up yesterday, we were waiting for you to help us.” The counselor kindly, but firmly, said, “Figure it out.”
Both the counselor and the campers related that story to me after the trip. The counselor was struggling with what she must not have done during her demonstration; the campers were beyond ecstatic and delighted because, “It took a long time, but we did it ourselves!”
So the counselor should feel validated when author David Dobb states, “when parents engage and guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence, their kids generally do much better in life.” And, after 63 years of doing just that with each and every one of our campers, we know it is true.
As always, the images from the National Geographic article are stunning…but we like to think our own images tell a bit different story of risk-taking, novelty, excitement, and the company of peers. Enjoy!