Teen Talk

By Wright, Emily | Strings, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Teen Talk


Wright, Emily, Strings


It's no secret that the advent of puberty destabilizes student interest and engagement in extracurricular activities like music. Anecdotal evidence points to peer pressure, laziness, and lack of focus as reasons why teens quit. How, then, do concerned music teachers get them to stay the course and reach their full potential?

After doing a little research, it became clear that the success of any strategy is wholly contingent upon what motivates an individual student. Repackaging the virtues of music lessons won't have any impact without a meaningful grasp of the phenomena underlying the transition from childhood into young adulthood.

Puberty: the Highlights

A quick primer on the mechanisms of teenagedom: As they move through puberty, adolescents experience a biologically induced shift in sleep patterns, resulting in a delay in the feeling of sleepiness at night, and increased feelings of tiredness into the midmorning.

This is the result of increases in hormones, a higher core body temperature, and brain signals telling the body to remain alert, resulting in what researcher and Berkeley School of Public Health professor Ronald Dahl, in a 2003 article in brainscience publication Cerebrum, refers to as a kind of permanent six-hours-worth of jetlag. And if you see a distinct lack of common sense in the way teens make decisions, it's because the thinking-and-planning part of the brain radically changes the way it relates to the emotional part of the brain- it actually communicates with it less.

Dahl cites "the bewildering disparities between knowing and feeling, understanding and behaving" as archetypal symptoms of the maturing brain. He describes this period of explosive growth as "revving up the engine without a skilled driver."

To compound matters, teenagers do not have adequate life experience to provide context for their feelings, and frequently accept them at face value.

These changes in physiology combine with cultural expectations that simultaneously ask teens to assume more responsibility and become adults and yet remain childlike in their obedience to parents and teachers. Put simply, it's not an easy time for anyone.

Talent vs. Time

A cursory glance at the research proves what teachers already know: Aptitude does not guarantee that a student will succeed. One of the hallmarks of this age group is the evergrowing importance of social life and approval from their peers-yet numerous studies show that students who are talented spend considerably less time with their peer group than those who have no specific skill, whether due to time spent honing their talent or other social factors.

Many students will elect to socialize more, perhaps because it imparts a feeling of independence-especially if they associate their talent with childhood and parental influence. There is a direct correlation between "social support" of an activity and a child remaining engaged in it.

It is important to note that in studies of child prodigies, Olympic swimmers, concert pianists, and world-famous artists, very few young people who demonstrate the aptitude to become truly virtuosic at an activity do so, and that the adults who go on to excel were not generally considered exceptional as children and adolescents.

Gender Studies

A few studies note that adolescent boys and girls have different incentives: Boys score higher on tests measuring competitiveness, goal-win orientation, sensation seeking, and "reactive negativity"-the sometimes pleasurable expression of anger, frustration, or resentfulness after some sort of failure. …

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