Rector’s eNews – 27 July 2022/ Rector's eNews
In last week’s eNews I indicated that I would return to the seven aspects of the Choices Framework set out by Robin Cox. His suggestion is that trusted adults should take up these themes with young people – hence the reason for my outlining his thoughts briefly.
The first few tenets of his thesis are that teenagers should have clear goals, develop interests other than in the academic realm, that they should be encouraged to organise themselves and their lives, and that they should understand the importance of interdependence with others.
His last three recommendations relating to ways in which “trusted adults” may engage with teenagers encompass trying to encourage teenagers to be consistent, to take regular exercise and to develop a strong desire to serve others. Again, whilst the second of these in the Michaelhouse context is not usually difficult to promote, the others may not come so easily to all of our boys.
With regard to consistency, the notion is that a consistent modus operandi helps teenagers to order their lives; he suggests that it is important to have certain focal points in the day or week so that a rhythm relating to regular operation can be created. This could be around mealtimes or other events. A daily pattern helps young people avoid the tendency they may have to act impulsively; risk-taking is a feature of teenage behaviour because the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped. The “I didn’t realise it would happen to me” syndrome can be linked to trying to support consistency in teenage behaviour. He goes on to say that adults who model consistency in their own behaviour have a significant impact on young people and that no matter how much teenagers may say they are frustrated by the limitations adults place on them, they intuitively actually value those limitations on their behaviour when guidance is based on the love and care that trusted adults exhibit towards them.
Eric Jensen in A Fresh Look at Brain Based Education argues that regular exercise is strongly correlated with increased brain mass and better cognition. As we know, physical activity optimises the development of key areas of the brain such as the cerebellum, the large area at the back of the brain, and endorphins are released during exercise. The vast majority of Michaelhouse boys exercise regularly as they have to follow a sports programme and it is worthwhile remembering as an adult that, even during a period when boys are writing exams and their focus is principally academic, there needs to be commitment to a healthy and normal exercise routine if they are to give of their best academically.
Lastly, Cox believes in the importance of the notion of service in the development of adolescents. He quotes Tim Costello, former Chief Executive of World Vision, Australia who remarked that “if people are not living for a cause, a belief or a faith beyond themselves, they are not building character, resilience or realism.” Much of the teenage world of the 2020s is focused on getting ahead of others and living in a world where there is an “all about me” focus. Entitlement, instant gratification and such themes are not uncommon in teenagers, but breadth of character and real satisfaction are induced when young people operate at a higher level, where they make a positive impact on their community through service, whatever that service may entail. In our context, it could be within our immediate Michaelhouse school community or else outside it. We have a requirement for boys to engage in service as part of their curriculum and we need to develop this further by making more opportunities for boys to extend themselves in this way.
Most of what I have articulated in terms of Robin Cox’s ideas are common sense and are nothing dramatic, but I value the way in which he has set out the seven themes and produced food for thought. His book, Choices, Encouraging Youth to Achieve Greatness is published by resource Eugene, Oregon, 2021 (www.wipfandstock.com)