9–12 years Child Development Research Paper

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The high school years, Grades 9 to 12, are complex and interesting with regard to students’ development and learning. The age range is vast during high school, spanning the teenage years, or what is called adolescence. Ninth graders are transitioning from early adolescence to middle adolescence, and graduating seniors have transitioned to late adolescence. This age group is challenging for educators because young people change in so many different ways. Broadly speaking, adolescence brings biological, physical, cognitive, and social changes. These changes have implications for the educational lives of students and for educators who work with teens in and out of schools. An awareness of these changes and the kinds of challenges they bring can improve our ability to provide the opportunities that can make a difference in teens’ lives.

It was not until the turn of the century that psychology and education began to focus on adolescent behavior. Since then, the study of adolescence has taken many forms. G. Stanley Hall (1904), an early psychologist, viewed adolescence as a time of stress and turbulence characterized by mood shifts and difficulties. Although he acknowledged that the environment plays a bigger role in adolescence than it does in childhood, he emphasized biological factors; it is well-known that adolescents change physically with the onset of puberty. In contrast, the history of adolescent development was also shaped by Margaret Mead (1928) who believed that one’s development was in large part influenced by culture. Mead’s groundbreaking, highly controversial research took her to Samoa, where she illustrated that stress and turbulence were not universal hallmarks of adolescence, but more likely a by-product of United States culture.

The age-old nature versus nurture debate still underlies many of the perspectives in development as relevant to education. For years, intelligence tests were regarded as indicators of intellectual potential and natural smarts. In recent years, even higher stakes are associated with standardized testing (see Part IX: Assessment, this volume). Now this research is coupled with a broader understanding that these tests have bias, favoring the perspectives of particular students, and the recognition that environmental factors including testing conditions also influence student performance. The sharp nature versus nurture, or biological versus environmental, debate is no longer a real debate because biological and environmental factors are recognized as contributors in development and in the educational lives of high school students.

Background: A Closer Look at Home, School, and Community Factors

In recent decades, research has intensified with regard to contextual perspectives. This means that our understanding of development is more complex than it once was, and our understanding of development is also more rich and nuanced. It is no longer a matter of looking at a student’s intelligence test or past achievement. One must also consider the intersection of many factors including family, peers, afterschool activities, school context, and even larger economic changes that may influence the resources for learning in a school or within a neighborhood. To do this is to take an ecological view of development.

Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) was a major pioneer of the ecological perspective, which involves looking at the entire social ecology of students including their economic resources; their social position within the larger world; their family’s network, job, or neighborhood; and also the more direct influences of the contexts of home, school, and community. This ecological perspective provides at least two useful viewpoints. First, educators need to be mindful of the macrolevel, including the variety of larger political, social, and economic factors that indirectly influence young people, and how these factors may trickle down to influence students in their home and school lives. For example, major changes in federal policies or a slowdown in economic growth may lead businesses to close. Parents may lose their jobs and struggle to provide for their families. This stress may trickle down into the home, and the students may be forced to increase their own work hours, leaving no time for homework. An awareness of these issues can help educators to better understand students because one can appreciate how complex individual behavior actually is. It may be less about a parent choosing to be involved or a student deciding to invest in academics. Choices may not be so clear-cut when basic survival is salient.

This perspective also reminds educators that there are important immediate and direct influences or contexts for development outside of the home. In today’s busy world, young people participate in many contexts including extracurricular activities, sports, and clubs. Further, some students also are actively involved in their communities through religious affiliations or structured youth programs. Many high school students are involved in paid employment or volunteer experiences that provide insights into the world of work and community service. Taking an ecological perspective can be especially hopeful, then, because if there is a lack of support within the home context, there may be support in another context. Learning more about students’ out-of-school lives in conjunction with school can be critical in viewing the entire student. Next, we highlight some of the key findings relevant to the immediate contexts in which students participate.

Parents as the First teachers

Parents are important people from whom adolescents continue to draw encouragement and security as they move from childhood into adulthood. Parents are most helpful when they support their children in a developmentally appropriate manner, which means that they allow the adolescent space to develop as an individual separate from the family while maintaining a strong sense of belonging within the family. Even though teens are striving for some separation, most teens want to know their parents are available and interested in their growth. Providing scaffolding can be important, because it is crucial for adolescents to gain problem-solving tools on their own but they need some assistance to do so. When parents act as a sounding board, encouraging their teens to make low-risk decisions on their own and talk through possible consequences of actions, they are providing scaffolding. In this way, teens have support, but they also gradually increase the autonomy and responsibility for their actions. In fact, research indicates that when parents collaborate in decision making with appropriate support, rather than dictating the outcomes or engaging in a completely hands-off manner, their teens report higher feelings of self-competence. Even though parenting styles differ across cultures, encouraging young people to make their own decisions while offering appropriate gradients of help is generally positive.

Parents also act as teachers in how they choose to spend family time. Young people tend to take interest in activities that their parents introduce to them or provide resources to facilitate. For example, when parents talk about particular interests (e.g., medical discoveries, literature) or take family trips to particular destinations (e.g., museums, hiking trails), they are likely to inspire interest. It is difficult for a young person to become interested in something to which there has been no exposure. Parents also provide a context in which adolescents view their abilities by how they discuss them. Parents may communicate to their children that they have natural ability or that they lack it. Research suggests that parents may be more likely to explain to daughters that their poor performance in math is due to a lack of ability (e.g., you are just not good at this) whereas they may be more likely to say to their sons that it is due to a lack of effort (e.g., you just did not try the right strategies). During adolescence, however, teens do not spend the majority of their time in the home. They have interactions with peers, teachers, and others who also provide an interpretive lens for their interests and abilities.

Peer Groups as mirrors

In school and out, wanting to belong to a peer group is a key motivator of teens. Peers can provide a mirror to adolescents as they consider what kind of person they want to become. In other words, they spend time with those whom they hope will reflect the image they want to convey. Indeed, striving for a sense of group identity can sometimes override any individual sense of identity.

Peer groups can take the form of organized cliques or social categories. For example, research by Eckert (1989) documented the existence of known cliques including “jocks” and “burnouts.” In her study, group membership was associated with participation in particular activities. Jocks participated in school-sanctioned activities whereas burnouts completely avoided these activities. Peer group membership influenced students’ friendships, activities, relationships with teachers, and long-term academic outcomes. One important finding was that social class was associated with peer group membership; lower-income neighborhood teens tended to become “burnouts” and higher-income neighborhood teens tended to become “jocks.” In addition, it has been found that during transitions between middle school and high school, teens can change their peer group membership in much the same way that they originally enter a peer group: through the activities in which they participate. By engaging in new and different activities, especially high-status activities such as sports or nonacademic clubs, adolescents can change their peer group membership.

Teachers as socializers

Students spend much of their day with teachers. Teachers provide an important lens on the world and, more importantly, on how young people see their academic potential and themselves more generally. Typically, having positive relationships with teachers—even one teacher— has been associated with positive benefits for students, including persistence in school. Teachers can facilitate or act as a gatekeeper for opportunities by recognizing talent and encouraging students.

It has been consistently proven that teachers can have a profoundly positive or negative lasting influence on students. This can differ from student to student and teacher to teacher; however, by and large, when students form a strong sense of their ability and interest in a subject, students can remember the teacher that sparked that interest and even the kinds of activities that they did in class together or what the teacher said or did to make an impact. Likewise, students know when a teacher does not believe in them and their capabilities. As early as the first grade, students know if a teacher thinks that they are smart or not. This can be communicated through differential treatment, including praise or attention. During high school, students are actively trying on various interests and, as a result, a teacher’s interest in them or validation of their capabilities can influence their academic pathways to the degree that they would be more inclined to continue with the study of a subject or less likely, as the case may be.

Communities as Alternative spaces

Although community influences, including religious and youth organizations, have always played a role in development, it was not until the 1990s that research and funding for initiatives in this area were so concentrated. Teens who participate in community organizations can pursue projects that have personal meaning and often forge relationships with supportive adults who believe in them. Participation can range from joining an afterschool computer club, to attending an intensive summer enrichment program, to being involved in a community service project at a local hospital. Furthermore, young people can discover new talents and capabilities within out-of-school contexts because they are not constrained by school curriculum requirements. Numerous programs have shown how they foster creativity and success in young people who may not have otherwise found success before.

Perhaps the most well-known community-based project is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Young people, typically from single-parent or low-income families, are matched to a responsible adult for a year-long mentoring relationship. The research on this project has found that if matches are not sustained for the full year, the effect of participation on the young person is likely more negative than positive. This program emphasizing long-term mentoring has inspired the development of many similar programs targeting high school students. In addition, the program is one of the first to engage in a systematic large-scale evaluation that both illustrated its effectiveness and provided cautions with regard to successful implementation. Mentor selection and training are very important. When constructed and implemented effectively, mentoring relationships can be life-changing for teens, especially those for whom the home or school presents difficulties.

Major Concepts in Adolescent Development

Identity and Efficacy

Identity development is a central task that teens engage in during high school. This is the process of figuring out answers to the questions, who am I? and what do I want to become? Many agree with Erikson (1968) that adolescents struggle with identity, trying on different identities and striving to develop a sense of the future. In the United States, trying on a career identity is often a central feature of this complicated process. It is debatable whether young people actually get much support within schools, or elsewhere, to figure out the answers to these questions. Nevertheless, young people set off to explore their options in courses and in extracurricular activities, and they are influenced by the media. Exploration is critical; decision making without adequate exploration is referred to as premature foreclosure, a state in which students are influenced by what others tell them rather than their own experience. In schools, engaging in long-term projects or community service ventures helps young people to feel that they are productive, contributing members of society while also providing contexts to explore possible identities.

Harter, Bresnick, Bouchey, and Whitesell (1997) identified many spheres for developing perceptions of capabilities including academic, athletic, social, and emotional. Thus, it is not so much the actual capability as it is a perception of capability (motivation experts call this self-efficacy). It is important to approach identity development holistically. By being aware of capabilities across multiple domains, educators can encourage their students to try to draw upon their feelings of capability in one domain when aiming to grow in another.

Researchers who study future-oriented identity, including Markus and Nurius (1986), who use a possible selves perspective, have argued that multiple future selves influence students’ motivation. What one hopes to become in the future, even though unformed, is a strong motivator of the kinds of activities that one engages in or aims to avoid. Students have both hoped-for selves and feared selves, and these selves vary in number and intensity; the few most important and vivid will be powerful. As mentioned, these future images are important when thinking about motivation because they guide students into action. If adolescents imagine themselves as future college students or as certain kinds of professionals, they are more likely to engage in academic coursework. In contrast, if they do not have future images that require academics, then they may be less likely to invest in such schoolwork. Thus, it is important early on to introduce students to many future possibilities and to encourage them to see themselves in many different ways. This is not to suggest that students should be pressured to go to college or to choose an occupation early. It just means that trying on possibilities can impel students to commit valuable energies that can leave many rather than few options open in the future.

Given the multitude of selves in operation, conflict among future selves can arise. For example, a student’s desire to become a doctor may conflict with a desire to raise a large family, or a desire to be popular among friends may conflict with a desire to spend a lot of time training for a sport. It is not that someone cannot have multiple compatible future selves; instead, within the student’s mind, it may be difficult to contemplate how to work toward oneself without jeopardizing another. In addition, it has been found that students who struggle with academics may decide not to invest in that part of themselves, and instead dedicate their investment in another domain, such as the arts, athletics, or even delinquent activities. Some have called the turning away from academics an oppositional school identity. This has been studied within ethnic minority youth with an emphasis on African American youth who may see academics as a middle-class White enterprise in which they cannot successfully participate (see Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). Shifting energies from one domain to another is sometimes referred to as compartmentalization of selves, and it can serve as a protective mechanism for students so they feel that they are not necessarily failing in an area, but instead are choosing not to invest in that area.

Another important aspect of identity development is having a plan for achievement. It is not enough for students to declare a goal for the future (e.g., I want to be a scientist). Students must also have a plan for how to get from point A to point B. This goal-directed plan is typically referred to as a self-regulatory plan. The student organizes activity in a strategic manner in order to create the conditions to meet goals. The development of self-regulatory plans is an important area for educators to help young people (for further elaboration see Part IV: Motivation and Classroom Management, this volume).

Self-Esteem, Voice, and Well-Being

During adolescence, individuals can begin to think more abstractly and idealistically. As mentioned, young people are striving to figure out who they really are and may try to distinguish real or true selves from ideal or inauthentic selves. One’s perception that they are true to themselves can have positive implications for overall well-being. At the core of one’s self is a sense of self-esteem, or how much one likes or feels good about oneself, and is linked closely to one’s sense of self-worth, or the sense that one is a worthy, deserving person. Self-esteem is believed to be an aspect of a person that is developed, grown, and strengthened. In recent years, more attention has been paid to concerns about inflated self-esteem because it has been associated with juvenile delinquency. There are also concerns about trying to artificially inflate self-esteem by handing out tokens to make students feel good about themselves void of any deed (e.g., everybody wins an award no matter what). It is believed by some that improving self-esteem is not necessarily an important goal and that improving self-efficacy is more important.

Boys at this age typically have higher self-esteem than girls. Girls, in contrast, may take a downward turn in self-esteem. Pipher (1994) was in fact perplexed over the number of girls with plummeting self-esteem in her clinical practice. She argued that several factors contributed to the loss of one’s true self, including the pressure that girls have to hide their true opinions for fear of losing relationships. It is not surprising then that the notion of voice has been described as related to maintaining a strong sense of self-esteem. Some argue that girls lose their voice when they hide their true opinions, and in doing so, they lose contact with their true selves. It is unclear whether a threat to voice or self-esteem is pervasive across all girls, only girls, or for any adolescent regardless of gender. Some argue that these issues are more likely to face middle-class White girls because of cultural norms and pressures for girls to be “nice” and not to speak their minds, whereas others who study urban teen girls of color, for example, have found an opposite tendency: adolescent girls are socialized to speak out on issues (Way, 1995). In addition, some argue that self-esteem struggles may affect both male and female students, but in different ways, with boys more likely to act out and girls more likely to be depressed (Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994).

These constructs are important for educators for many reasons. First, young people bring how they feel about themselves into the classroom and to afterschool programs. A teacher may be puzzled if a student appears reluctant to challenge viewpoints in class or to voice an opinion. Students may fear retribution from classmates or fear losing their friends if they engage in class. Thus, it is important for students to gain experience challenging authority constructively, including the use of debates and long-term projects that encourage the use of contrasting viewpoints. Out of school, numerous successful initiatives include adventure camps and theatre programs that encourage teens to take healthy risks and reinforce self-esteem.

Some students with low self-esteem also struggle with depression, and there are more frequent reports of teen depression in recent years. Students may find it difficult to concentrate in class if they are struggling with their own feelings of self-liking or with depression. Changes in medications can exacerbate school difficulties. Thus, one cannot assume that a student is uninterested or unmotivated; lack of engagement may signal a deeper problem.

Resilience and Persistence

Resilience, defined as one’s ability to persist in the face of difficulties and endure despite adverse circumstances, is an important outcome for the positive development of adolescents. Even though certain risk factors and adversities are faced by many young people, it is the ability to withstand these that is imperative. Resilience can be fostered and developed by promoting protective factors which can buffer young people when they encounter negative circumstances. In high school, individuals’ beliefs and capabilities are very malleable, which may contribute to the ability to enhance resilience.

Within the individual, enhanced social ability, developed skills (e.g., sports, dance, art), positive self-worth, strong problem-solving self-efficacy, intellectual ability, and spirituality have all been identified as key protective factors that can be promoted by school systems, families, and communities. When adolescents develop a close relationship with a parental figure, they are more likely to exhibit increased resilience. A parental figure can help young people to hold high expectations for their development and to find effective coping strategies when they face roadblocks; by modeling these strategies and encouraging their use, adults can teach adolescents to internalize them. If parents provide support at home for homework, for example, they can help their teens to persist when difficulties arise. This can take the form of encouraging them to write down questions to ask at school the next day or brainstorming other strategies.

Beyond parents, we know that close caring relationships with other adults such as a mentor at a community program, a coach, or a teacher can also foster resilience. Having at least one valued adult who cares and believes in the teen’s capability can go a long way to communicate that he or she is not alone. While it is the case that having socioeconomic advantages also contributes to resilience, this is often due to having increased resources. Thus, it is possible to overcome adversity and accomplish goals by making use of available social resources at school and in the community.

All risk factors are not created equal. Indeed, one area of high risk that seems to be especially impenetrable to resiliency outcomes is exposure to violence. When students, particularly males, are exposed to high levels of violence, they are at a high risk of academic failure in reading and math, and resilience interventions may be especially necessary. Certainly, individual and environmental differences contribute to developmental outcomes, but it is important to pay attention to the type of challenges facing young people in order to develop appropriate interventions.

Learned helplessness is a response that develops when an individual no longer sees a connection between his or her efforts and the outcomes. Simply put, when one has learned helplessness in a domain, it means that the person lacks a perception of control and is inclined to give up. To combat these feelings, teens can be reminded of previous success and control. It can also help when students have a mastery goal, or a goal to improve capacity or understanding, and when students have positive self-efficacy. By providing exposure to positive role models who demonstrate the capability to persist in the face of difficulty, and possible strategies that can be used to problem solve, students may be more likely to persist.

Topics of Interest and Debate

Living in a (High-Tech) Culture of Performance

In today’s schools, there is immense pressure to perform. Standardized testing receives acute attention, and even real estate is marketed in conjunction with school district averages. Grades are also so important because more students are going to college, and so college acceptances are more competitive. High school students contend with performance pressure and fears that they may not have the grades to make it into elite colleges. Especially in highly competitive school districts, it can be challenging for a student to stand out from peers without excelling above and beyond in many domains. School districts stand to lose resources and control of schools if they do not perform at particular levels, leading many teachers to feel constrained in the curricular opportunities they are able to present their students. While the main purpose of school has tended to be academic in nature, in recent years, this has become more stringent in many districts where the focus is on raising test scores. In struggling school districts where test scores are tied to diplomas, school dropout is rampant.

Pressure to achieve creates other problems. Cheating has become a pervasive problem among high school students. Often, cheating starts in middle school, where academic expectations begin to accelerate, and then follows students into high school and college, where performance is directly linked to gaining access to top career opportunities or graduate programs. Furthermore, living in a high-tech world makes cheating easier, because Web sites that catalog tests and term papers are only a click away, and the resources are still new enough that there is not a clear understanding of how to give proper credit to online resources.

What is beginning to emerge in research on academic integrity is a sense among young people that cheating is normal and therefore acceptable. The behavior is becoming so culturally normalized that some educators are frustrated that many students no longer see it as a big deal. Many educators and school boards will agree that parents do not always support the school’s efforts to tame cheating; sometimes parents support a child they know is being less than honest because they too are aware of the high stakes associated with performance. There is a need for parents and teachers to be educated in the proper use of online resources.

Furthermore, pertaining to the issue of academic integrity, there is a concern that the larger moral thread in society is unraveling and we are seeing the repercussions of this in today’s teens. In other words, academic dishonesty may be a symptom of a larger problem. In response, many schools are implementing character or moral education programs that teach young people that they are capable of leading healthy, positive lives if they make thoughtful choices. One major resource for character education programming in K-12 schools is the Character Education Partnership, a nonprofit organization. Principles emphasized include trying to make the world a better place and doing the right thing even if it is not the easiest or most personally gratifying option. These programs are controversial because they may appear to resemble religious doctrine rather than educational guidance.

The diagnosis of learning disabilities is another issue related to high pressure to perform academically. There is greater sensitivity to the needs of students now more than ever before, leading to a greater diagnosis of a wider range of learning disabilities. But there may also be a greater frequency of diagnosing learning disabilities among low-performing students in high-income communities that want to maintain their high averages because students with learning disabilities have their standardized test scores calculated separately. Research on learning disabilities suggests that young people vary in how they react to the diagnosis: some feel generally incapable because they incorporate the diagnosis into their entire identity while others find productive coping strategies to achieve great success. This is an area of debate as well and will need further monitoring with regard to how to individualize education but continue to support students in a highly politicized climate.

When Does Enrichment Become Overload?

There is a growing concern among educators about the number and intensity of students’ extracurricular activities. Many teens, especially middle- and upper-middle-class teens, are scheduled with lessons and activities without much downtime. On the one hand, it is recognized that enrichment activities are important for the development of students. Another perspective on this overscheduling of teens, however, is that too much of a good thing can be detrimental and lead to overload.

The first potentially negative outcome is that adolescents are losing valuable sleep. Sleep deprivation is an area of concern for adolescents. Research suggests that teens need at least 9 hours of sleep per night to be at their best. During adolescence, the biological clock for sleep, or one’s circadian timing, shifts during puberty. This shift often leaves adolescents wanting to stay up later and wanting to sleep longer in the morning. The lives of adolescents, at least during the school year, do not support these sleep requirements. Many teens’ lives are rather full with school, homework, a job, and extracurricular activities.

Some school systems, in an effort to support developmental sleep needs, have actually changed their school schedules by starting classes later in the morning. Adolescent experts contend that high school students are sleeping in the classroom because they are not sleeping at night. This lack of sleep affects students’ ability to think and to perform at their best in school. Aspects of out-of-school life, including sleep, certainly can influence a student’s in-school life and performance.

Is participation in team sports a positive pastime or are teens getting burnt out by too much? Evidence suggests that there are many positive outcomes from participation in team sports such as constructive peer relationships, decreased risk of drug use, increased self-confidence, and enhanced cooperation skills. For some, however, participation in team sports can bring about stress and sadness to the point where one leaves sports altogether. Today, sports teams are typically organized differently than they were in years past when everyone at every level was encouraged and supported by adults to play. In today’s fast-paced world, the level of competition, travel, expense, and parental involvement and ties to higher education (e.g., the possibility of a college scholarship), can change a once enjoyable pastime into an area of high stress for some teens.

Adult interference in sports is one major concern. Although parental involvement is usually viewed as positive, recently there has been a trend for parents to become overinvolved in micromanaging their child’s sports participation and thus interfering with the positive outcomes of sports participation. Similar to the academic realm, this may stem from parents feeling the pressures associated with their child’s performance. Statistically speaking, across the nation only a small percentage of high school students will receive an athletic scholarship to college and even fewer become professional athletes. Still, the pressure from many parents to achieve one of these coveted spots persists. Continuing athletic activity for all students, for enjoyment and healthy competition, is and should be a priority for high schools.

Drug use and Abuse

Communities and schools alike have dealt with the issue of substance use and abuse in schools for decades. Many intervention and educational strategies have been implemented to inform students, limit the use of substances, and offer counsel to those who may already have a problem. To that end, schools provide education and support to both teens and families. Although there is not extensive research on what the best intervention practices are, we do know that strategies used with younger children are not effective for high school students. Because of developmental differences, prevention and informational programs used in the earlier grades have shown to be ineffective in reducing substance abuse for teens. Promising interventions in high schools include implementing peer mentoring and peer-facilitated groups. Currently, approximately one third of public schools offer some kind of substance abuse programming. The Phoenix House, a nonprofit organization, provides nationally recognized prevention and treatment programs. The American Council of Drug Education can also provide updated information about educational prevention programming.

Traditional schools are challenged when aiming to implement programming. Teachers often do not have the qualifications to present and offer discussion of the prevention materials, and students in high school are less likely to talk openly with their academic instructors about substance use or abuse. This can present a real difficulty for a teen who is trying to get clean or stay sober while also trying to get an education in an environment where substance use is a part of daily life among peers. Indeed, the rate of relapse is high among teens. One intervention approach that offers hope, specifically to students who have been identified as having a substance abuse problem and are committed to staying clean, is enrolling in a designated recovery high school. At a recovery high school, recovering students gain a peer group that is supportive and staff that are trained in relapse prevention and in helping to manage stress. Currently, there are about 20 recovery high schools across the United States.

Educators would like to believe that students can go to school and get an education without fear of relapsing, but unfortunately the problem is only growing with the normalization of drug use in general among teens. More teens are prescribed prescription drugs, whether for attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, depression, or other diagnoses. Generally speaking, prescription drugs are making their rounds within schools, and there may be a lack of understanding with regard to their potential dangers.

Future Directions

There are several topics that were not explored in this research-paper but require attention from educators as they emerge and develop. First, there needs to be greater awareness of cross-cultural and, more specifically, global relationships for teens in the United States. Young people are more aware of global conflict and the potential for terrorism since 9/11. Researchers too have paid attention to these changes, especially as they influence particular groups of young people such as Muslim American youth who may find their identities as Americans and as positive young people under threat. Certainly, a greater emphasis on the role of civic engagement and global awareness in the education of high school students is worth examining.

The overscheduled, high-tech lives of young people bring a continued focus on stress, depression, and also violence. Violence in schools has filled the headlines; it is unclear that young people, or adults for that matter, know how to manage interpersonal conflict or depression in productive ways. Educating and supporting the whole adolescent, including emotional and physical well-being, will be a focus in the coming years. We expect continued growth of alternative schools, such as the recovery high school, that attend to the individualized needs of young people in today’s world.

Along those same lines, we anticipate a greater focus on the connections between schools, families, businesses, and other community resources. With greater support, families with fewer resources are able to more fully participate in the education of their teens. For example, adult literacy programs for parents who speak English as a second language are in great demand, with waiting lists often very long. Several innovative partnership programs have been developed around the country, in which area businesses have provided much needed human and economic support for area schools. Since identity development is such a salient task in adolescence, business partnerships also provide great venues in which young people can explore their career options and meet various professionals. A closer look at the potential of these programs and their influence on the development and achievement of high school students will be needed in the coming years.


The high school years present challenges for educators especially in today’s high-tech and high-demand world. Young people may be changing in so many different ways depending on whether they are emerging from childhood or entering adulthood. Biological, cognitive, and physical changes all take place, and the academic and future potentials of young people are influenced by many social factors. Using an ecological perspective, we can appreciate the influences of parents, peers, and teachers, as well as community, economic, and political factors.

Young people strive to develop their identities and capacities in many different domains through academic and extracurricular activities. Maintaining strong self-esteem and voice despite peer pressures and desires to maintain relationships can be challenging. It is important for high school students to learn ways to cope with adverse circumstances. Involvement in mentoring programs, or other opportunities where young people can gain valuable life skills, can help them to buffer even very difficult barriers.

Several topics are salient in discussions concerning the learning and development of today’s high school students. There is a serious culture of performance in schools, especially surrounding performance on standardized tests and admissions to colleges. Cheating has become more prevalent. Some of this may be due to our living in a high-tech culture with online resources and a lack of knowledge of how to properly credit or use them. Parental pressure has also gained much attention. Increased stress from an overload of enrichment activities can cause sleep deprivation and influence academic struggles. Furthermore, substance abuse is a serious and pervasive problem facing many teens, leading to the development of prevention and treatment programs in addition to alternative schools. Future directions, including a greater focus on global awareness, school violence, and community-business partnership programs can help to further support high school students. Ultimately, it is the education and development of the whole adolescent, with recognition of the circumstances facing an adolescent and resources afforded to his or her family and community that can help us to be truly successful educators in the 21st century.

See also:


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