Teenagers often present with a number of challenges in how their brains work. There is rapid development, changes in brain wiring, challenges in school, struggles in peer relationships, adversity, stress, anxiety and now the impact and consequences of COVID-19. It is an intense and sometimes difficult process to help teens with this vital part of the brain.
This is the subject of the research cited by Stephen Merrill on the Edutopia website. He discusses the work of psychology professors Angela Duckworth and Ethan Kross. Here are some excerpts from this compelling article quoting Dr. Kross:
“When thinking about kids in school, moving up one level to the question of self-control—which I define broadly as a person’s ability to align their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors with their goals—ends up being a lot more productive.”
While getting distractible teenagers to focus in school sounds great, especially to educators, the language of self-control can sound uncomfortably compliance-based. But the skills that make up the brain’s executive functions involve both cognitive and behavioral domains that are crucial to learning and self-realization—goal setting and long-term planning, for example—and “the connotation should really be one of autonomy and not compliance,” Duckworth contends.
“Everyone struggles with their impulses. Across cultures, and across the lifespan, self-control is usually the lowest or second-lowest self-reported capacity,” she says. “Who hasn’t struggled with the desire to procrastinate, or to eat unhealthy food?”
The problem of self-regulation is especially acute for teenagers, who are dramatically expanding their network of friends just as they’re besieged by new, complicated school schedules, increased academic demands, and after-school obligations. It’s a lot to keep track of, especially for novices. Still, there are plenty of evidence-based tools that teens and teachers can use to strengthen executive function, according to Kross and Duckworth.
We took some of their best insights, and pored over recent research, to find eight powerful, evidence-based strategies.
The rest of the article lays out the eight evidence-based strategies that are helpful in understanding how to help teenagers with the executive function of their brain. It is an opportunity for us all to understand better how to help them overcome some of the obstacles to the healthy development of this very complex part of their lives.