Message from Scott Cowie, Head, Senior Division
- Monday, May 22 – Leaving Class Dinner: Student Centre, 6 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 23 – Spirit of Athletics Assembly: Laidlaw Hall, 10:30 a.m.
- Tuesday, May 23 – Leaving Class Ceremony: Hewitt Athletic Centre, 4 p.m.
- Thursday, May 25 – US Colleges Overview and Application Essay Workshop
We had our annual MADD assembly on Monday. As usual, it was a very powerful experience for all in attendance. I often wonder if the impact of this special media presentation loses some impact on our students, since most of them live in, or near Toronto, where Uber, taxis and public transit are all readily accessible. Yet, I was reminded by a colleague that many of our boys will likely head off to more rural settings for university. He also pointed out that many will spend time at cottages, or may work at summer camps in Northern Ontario and will, in all likelihood, have to travel to and from small towns by car.
The reality of a scenario like this hit me when I recalled the tragic story of a very young Old Boy who, along with two of his passengers, was killed in a car accident nine years ago after having lunch and drinks at a restaurant in the Muskoka area. Shortly after his death, the boy’s father campaigned for zero-tolerance laws for younger drivers, in an effort to save others from having to endure the devastation suffered by his own family.
I do believe we are gaining ground with today’s youth having better judgment with respect to impaired driving, but as a parent, I admit to still getting frustrated with some of the seemingly inane decisions made by my two teenage kids. A number of years ago, National Geographic magazine featured a very interesting article titled “Beautiful Brains.” In it, author David Dobbs explains the science behind some of the often puzzling and nonsensical behaviour exhibited by young people, specifically those in their teenage years.
Through looking at the natural stages of growth of the human brain, Dobbs explains how the often annoying and sometimes frightening decisions of our teenaged children is a manifestation of where they’re at developmentally, and ultimately is a necessary step in their maturation toward adulthood. Dobbs’ story highlights many fascinating aspects of teenage behaviour that he links to neurological development, but what was of most interest to me were the three characteristics he identified that could, in some way, provide an explanation for the risky decisions so often made by many young people:
- a yearning for some type of sensation stimulation
- a keen understanding of the relationship between risk and reward, but prioritizing reward over risk
- a dependency on social acceptance
The traditional explanation for teenage misconduct is usually linked to the notion that their brains aren’t fully developed and, as a result, they act impulsively without giving thought to the potential consequences of their actions. While impulsivity might be strongly associated with the need for stimulation, if I’m reading Dobbs correctly, he argues that there are other significant factors, like the three mentioned above, that are involved in the decisions teenagers make. According to studies cited in the article, recent research “casts the teen as less of a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptive creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” (National Geographic, October 2011)
As parents, I think we all assume that our children will never travel in a vehicle with an impaired driver behind the wheel. Yet we all know that our kids are going to take some risks as they navigate their teen years. It’s only natural that they do. In preparation for these moments, I’d suggest the following:
1) Be proactive: Have conversations about the types of situations in which risk-taking might be a factor. Better yet, speak about related experiences with which you struggled when you were their age.
2) Resist the desire to dismiss poor decisions as impulsive or immature. Try to understand how your child came to the decision he did, knowing that risky decisions are often a product of complex reasoning.
3) In a caring way, support any consequences that may occur from risk-taking. Recognizing that the results of poor decisions can be painful, but will likely have an impact on future decisions your son will make, and will hopefully lead to better judgment.
Monday’s assembly certainly warrants a follow-up conversation with your son. Have a safe, enjoyable long weekend.
Thanks for reading,