Advisor: Maryfrances Porter (YOUTH-NEX)
Biologically, psychologically, socially, and culturally, a developmental shift is supposed to take place during one’s teenage years. In a famous psychosocial development model, German psychologist Erik Erikson broke human development down into eight stages, which delineate basic internal conflicts that need to be overcome as a person ages. One of the most crucial and transitional stages is adolescence, occurring between ages 12 and 18 and defined by the assessment of the self, one’s social role, and one’s direction in life. Adolescence is then followed by a period of young adulthood, a stage predicated on the assumption that the individual has established him or herself as an independent adult. Traditionally, high school and the early college years are the times in which people develop this understanding of who they are, what goals and values they hold, and how they can assert themselves as independent individuals. This individuality includes financial independence, living on one’s own, securing substantial employment, and moving towards establishing one’s own family. However, in recent decades, the adolescent stage has been extended. Teenagers have less and less of a sense of how to be independent or where they see themselves in society as they near the age at which they should be exiting the adolescent stage, thus prolonging their dependency on adult figures or other external networks rather than developing a sense of autonomous identity.
Current standards and pedagogies perpetuated within the American school system focus largely on cognitive skills and compliance-based definitions of success rather than on creating space for students to pursue a comprehensive exploration of social, creative, emotional, and ethical growth into the individual adults they might one day hope to become. One-size-fits-all approaches to formal schooling at times stifle opportunities for students to define and actualize their own views of ultimate happiness and success. These obstacles can also be significantly related to the many personally significant demographics that such an approach does not take into account; for example, in 2009, the dropout rate of students living in low-income families was roughly five times greater than that of high-income peers (7.4 percent vs. 1.4 percent) according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students whose unique differences, potential challenges, and individual needs are simply not addressed by the school system can thus feel far more disengaged from formal education and become more likely to be at risk.
The lack of adolescent preparation gives way to a state of vulnerability in our youths. It creates a lack of confidence and competence that are vital to the Positive Youth Development perspective as analyzed by Richard Lerner of Tuft’s university 6 “C”s of Adolescent Development. It forms a susceptibility to negative peer to peer relationships and encourages teens to practice adulthood autonomy by choosing to engage in sex, drugs, alcohol and crime. Each teen pregnancy cost about $13,000 in federal assistance in 1986. High school dropouts cost society lost earnings and tax revenues. Social and emotional cost are secondary cost when analyzing negative outcomes of adolescent deviance. The possibility for deviance and their associated cost affirms the need to ensure that teens are prepared to become fully functioning members of society as adults.
Adolescents face incredible demands from all sides in striving not only to meet the definitive standards set forth by the education system but also to explore the long and often difficult road to adulthood. Both research gathered from our own explorations and helpful statements offered by Ms. Porter have drawn attention to the inadequacy of formal schooling alone in the holistic support of at-risk students. Positive relationships and other supportive resources existing for the good of individual students must therefore fill in many of the gaps left behind by overarching systems of uniform education. The development of highly significant personal qualities such as self-confidence and intrinsic motivation must be equally well-supported, resourced, and encouraged for all students, regardless of their backgrounds.