On the Promise of Adolescence

For most of the summer, except when I was traveling, I had a regular schedule to my days. I usually started with an early morning walk to Starbucks with my little dog Romey (whom, while I got my coffee enjoyed a cookie from his friend Steve who is always there before 6am, leaving a cookie by the pole where I tie Romey if we arrive too late). Then we headed home to do some reading before hitting the computer to continue the work on advancing the 4-H Thriving Model.

Most days I looked up from my computer near 10 or 11 am, and needing a break, Romey and I headed back to Starbucks (this time across the field rather than the long way around) for a second cup of coffee to sit and think through the morning’s work and make a plan as to where we needed to head next. But as summer turned into fall, it was later and later before I headed back for that second cup of coffee – everything in the morning was taking more time and thought to accomplish before I felt I could take a break.

And so it was that I found myself as September rolled around, arriving for my second cup of coffee closer to 3pm than 11am. Never mind, though. I enjoyed the break whenever it came, and one particular day tucked a new book in my backpack as I headed across the field – a new consensus study report from the National Academies that I had eagerly been awaiting entitled The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth.

At Starbucks I got my late coffee, and tucked into a quiet corner to dive into my new book. And then…before I finished the first page, a ka-zillion girls came in, enjoying their stop for a treat on the way home from the middle school up the road. My quiet reading corner was assaulted with giggles, texts, and frappacinos, shattering my usual quiet reading time. School had started.

Here I was wanting to read about the promise of adolescence while at the same time being quite annoyed by the abundance of adolescents around me! The irony of my irritation was not lost on me. When I realized the reality of the situation, I invited some of the girls to share my table, which they did with sweet smiles, and healthy chatter of school, activities, friends, and families. It was a lesson in remembering what our work is all about!

But about the book… it is written by the Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-Behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and its Applications, with the assignment to “synthesize these exciting advances in the science of adolescent development and draw out their implications for the social systems charged with helping all adolescents flourish.” Of note is the statement that this knowledge “has not yet penetrated the everyday understanding of informed citizens and policy makers, including many who serve young people.”

Indeed it is a rich and complex time of scientific discovery in child and adolescent developmental science; science that must inform our everyday practice as we work together to help youth thrive. As the youth development program of the Extension Service, 4-H practitioners have an obligation to bring the emerging science in child and adolescent development from the university to the people with whom we work. And with so much unfolding about youth development, this obligation is perhaps more important than ever.

So look forward to more on the topic of the promise of adolescence as we head into the 4-H year. I’ll share what I am learning with the hope that you as practitioners can turn that learning into practice. As we do, I invite your feedback (and blog posts!) on how you are using the information to help youth thrive.

Until then. Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

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