Rector’s eNews – 11 May 2022/ Rector's eNews
It was a great pleasure to welcome back to Michaelhouse some 650 Old Boys who arrived on Friday for their “Super Gaudy” event encompassing a dinner, along with a Chapel Service and AGM on Saturday and, above all, the opportunity to meet with friends from the past who trod the same paths as they did. Most frequently, the remark from the older Old Boys was the extent to which the school has changed in its infrastructure since their days: no Ralfe or McCormick, no comparable science facility or Heritage Centre, no HPC……. in the old days, but still good people many of whom are leading organisations with the intention of making a difference in the lives of others. Long may the culture of service continue.
On Friday afternoon, Michaelhouse conferred on three Old Boys the St Michael Award, an honour which may be bestowed on Old Boys who have made an exceptional contribution to the lives of others. Jon Bates has worked tirelessly in the local community, Dudley Forde (Rector 1997-2001) in leadership in education and Peter Pickford in the area of photojournalism and conservation.
Each spoke with humility to the boys and staff about their association with Michaelhouse and urged the boys to contribute to society through service and to follow their passion.
Last week I began to discuss the work of Robin Cox who so often in his most recent book, Choices, articulates seemingly obvious thoughts in a very clear way. He believes that teenagers’ lives and their success will depend on the choices that they make but that, as we know, it is not so easy for them to make the right choices. This is because adolescents process emotions differently from adults and are ruled far more by their emotions than, he says, by reasoning and logic. They tend to experience emotions before they can verbally articulate them and they misread social situations and emotional signals from others so they often find it difficult to see and appreciate the consequences of their actions and decisions. He explains that the last part of the adolescent brain to fully mature is the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain in which more rational, higher level cognitive functioning takes place.
I find his analysis of the development of girls’ and boys’ brains interesting. He reflects that girls enter puberty at about 10 or 11 years of age and have completed their growth spurt by the age of 16, whilst boys tend to enter puberty when they are 12 or 13 and their growth spurt continues until they are about 18; this simple fact means that girls are often two years “ahead of the game”. He continues, “for boys the main growth hormone is testosterone which triggers the major physical changes, like dramatic growth spurts and sudden voice changes. Adolescent boys can have between 5 and 10 surges of testosterone every day during the course of puberty. By the end of adolescence, they can have 1000% the amount of testosterone in their bodies than they had before puberty and 15-20 times more than girls have at the same age.
Testosterone affects both the body and the brain. Specifically testosterone has a powerful effect on the amygdala – the part of the brain protecting us from harm which activates the ‘fight or flight’ reflex. The amygdala has receptors for testosterone, so in the midst of puberty, especially during a hormonal surge, the amygdala is regularly over stimulated. As a result, boys become emotional powder kegs. While testosterone does all sorts of good things, it is also likely to trigger surges of anger, aggression, sexual interest, dominance and territoriality.”
Despite this instability, it is important that teenagers set goals so that they can find the best way forward for themselves. There are five reasons why they should do so:
- They can choose where they want to go
- They can decide what they want to achieve
- They know where to concentrate their efforts
- They can spot the destruction that could lure them from their course
- They can build self-confidence which grows faster when they set and achieve goals
Cox tempers this by indicating that the role of the adult is then to challenge their reality, to ensure that goals are not set that are unrealistically high on the basis is that it is better than to over-achieve than under-achieve relative to goals. Teenagers need to know that it is entirely acceptable to fail as long as they have tried to do something on the basis that they can learn from their mistakes and grow through that failure; secondly, he highlights the importance of feedback which needs to be constructive and helpful and, thirdly, that the process of goal-setting needs to be fun. Teenagers need to laugh at themselves, retain a sense of humour and know that they will not always achieve their goals first time round, even if they are determined to do so.
The above relates to the first of seven points Cox makes, and I will continue this overview next week.