Tweens, Teens and Social Cognition

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

(Firstly - thanks to Jennifer who made a comment on the Vygotsky post which made me think about this - and flesh out some of the whys and hows, at least the way I think - which, lets face it, is always some sort of magic carpet ride)

So. You've gotten my base view on Vygotsky and why I think the concept of self talk is important. You've also had a bit of the other theories of Lev - Scaffolding, Zone of Proximal Development... Jennifer asked a question about how this theory may expand to fit high school/teens.

Now really, my Partner-in-PhD-Angst Maija should write this part. Youth culture is her forte and I've been her TA/partner for two very good literature classes. So I am blatantly ripping off some of the ideas she and I have talked about as I cobble together this "response".

Would this work in high school? Would we see a decrease of cliques and bullying behavior if kids were kept in stable groupings - with the first priority being the fluidity of their social interactions? Honestly, I don't know. I also don't think you could plop kids who had been schooled in "traditional" ways into 9-12th grade multiage classrooms and expect this could work. The children for whom this would be beneficial would have to be "grown" with the program, insomuch as they would be socialized to perform in a group learning environment. Most schools now are so Individual achievement oriented that the children who are invested in those systems would be thrown for a huge loop of we took them out of that. I am, and not a shocker here, very much in favor of starting the reforms with our youngest children as these children and families are less resistant to change and the school socialization pattern is less deeply imprinted on their learning behaviors.

Last year, Maija started the Young Adult Lit course talking about the metaphor of Teen as Alien. It remains, I think, an apt description. In addition to increase Learning demands (oh my god - get good grades or you'll never get to university...)you've got the whole physical and emotional changes that are kicking in full delta force. They are HYPER aware of themselves socially....but not in an integrated way. By this I mean, we each have an internal image of ourselves. This sharpened into focus as we transitioned into young adulthood - but it isn't a full picture of who we are. By rights, it CAN'T be, as we don't possess the full prefrontal cortex ability to see beyond the immediate. Our Teen Hurts are Whole Body and Mind Hurts. This means that when adults around us discount our pain, our loves , our thoughts as "not real", it can be intensely insulting and dismissive.

The other thing that intrigued me was the discomfort that I saw in some of the YA Lit students (mostly student teachers) when asking them to authentically remember what it was like to be a Teen themselves. For many, that door was locked and there was no way in hell they were opening it up to be vulnerable again. They'd crossed the line into adult hood and defended that beachhead like it was the last safe haven on earth.

And that is the crux of it. Vulnerability. As teens - and later as teachers - we worry about being vulnerable, about showing vulnerability. We assume it is weakness and will be judged as such. Would these worries be the same for kids who had been in the type of "social cognition" first classrooms I imagine?

As the Mom of a "tween", I can attest that this negotiation of roles is a painful thing to watch. I want to protect her...but I know she knows lots of things already. I want to keep her from knowledge of the messiness of life with its sexuality and desire and anger and depression and feelings. I don't want her to know that I - ME, her Mother - am participating in all of those things I don't want her to know about.

So we hide these parts of ourselves to our children at home, or in the classroom, because they make us uneasy. So the circle perpetuates. We are babies. We are Children, not babies. We are Teens and not children. We are Not Teens, we are Adults.

We burn down each bridge we cross so no one else can use it and pretend like we were always here, right now.

It seems like there has to be a better way.

3 Baleful Regards:

Jennifer said...

Wow, thanks for replying to my question, Dawn! I feel very honored. And now I don't have to give myself a Google crash-course in education to answer that curiosity myself. ;-)

I agree with your assessment that "there has to be another way". And I also agree that it sounds like the only way to change is by scratching the current system completely and starting from the ground-up. (Kind of how I feel like our two-party government system...)

And as the only child of parents that thought it best to shield me from everything, I certainly had trouble navigating when I moved in 5th grade to another state and school system where the kids were very "knowledgeable" and "worldly". 25 years later, I still remember the culture shock and the subsequent aftermath.

Tough stuff, but so thought provoking!

gurukarm (@karma_musings) said...

Dawn, I hope you will keep writing on what may, or may not, and what does not, work for teens - you're looking into those years yourself with Emily, so I know it will continue to be of interest.

My 15 y.o. son, who's been away at boarding school out of the country, will be home for the rest of high school in quite a different environment than he's been used to. I think your points will be very helpful to me in helping him go through these next three years!

E. said...

I teach at a high school of 300 students, and it's far more socially integrated and less nasty-and-brutish state-of-nature" than the high school I went to (pop. 1600). Students have friendships across age groups and social "types" pretty often, and they're way more tolerant of groups that are different than their own group, or of kids that are just doing their own thing. I feel like kids get squashed a lot less than at my HS or at other schools where I've taught. I sometimes wonder how much of this just has to do with the *size* of our school, more than any other qualities of the community (lots of professor's kids, a relatively highly educated community in general, a pretty "open" environment compared to most schools in terms of student freedoms).

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