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Psychologist praises sloop foundation

An international expert in developmental psychology has praised the work of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation.

According to Laurence Steinberg, the charity's programme for middle school students provides “exactly the kind of experience we want young people to have and that they don't have enough of”. Dr Steinberg, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, was the guest speaker at the Foundation's awards night, where he spoke about the importance of embracing adolescence as a time of opportunity rather than as a period to “survive”.

“I can sincerely say that when I've been travelling around to places in the States talking about these ideas, many times I am asked ‘can you point us to a school or an organisation that is behaving in a way that is consistent with this new vision of adolescence' and now I can certainly point to the Bermuda Sloop Foundation because what you all are doing is consistent with what we know about teenagers and how they develop,” Dr Steinberg told those in attendance. He also addressed the importance of adolescents putting themselves in “novel and challenging” situations that are necessary to stimulate brain development.

“It's hard to think of an experience that would be more novel or more challenging to most 13-year-olds than having to crew a hundred-foot sloop for a week,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“It's exactly the kind of experience we want young people to have and that they don't have enough of.

Through his book, Age of Opportunity, which draws partly on brain science and partly on psychology, Dr Steinberg has promoted a new vision of adolescence. Based in part on the discovery that the adolescent brain is very affected by experiences, he argues that “instead of thinking of adolescence as something to survive, which is how it is often presented in the popular media, we should really start thinking about it as an opportunity”.

“What we think now is that there are two periods during which the brain is especially plastic. One of them is the first few years of life and the other is adolescence.

“We tend to think about adolescence as a time where there isn't much we can do that will make a difference and that it's just an awful period that children go through where they are uncontrollable and inclined to get involved in bad behaviour and a problem for their parents and their teachers and so on.

“But understanding that the adolescent brain is plastic should give us more hope about what we can accomplish as parents and educators and policymakers.”

And while he praised the Bermuda Sloop Foundation for their role, he added: “We need to try to affect all the environments that children spend time in, schools, home, community, to try and give all children good experiences.” Dr Steinberg said a lot of social policies around the world were aimed at preventing problems such as substance abuse or premarital pregnancy. “We also need to be trying to do things to facilitate positive development. The one place where we can do that is in school.”

Dr Steinberg said most adolescents around the world consider school to be boring and lose interest or drop out because they are not being challenged enough. “I think it's important to look at the curriculum and to ask whether children are being challenged in appropriate ways that stimulate their brain development. Certainly being asked to memorise reams and reams of facts is not a very good way to achieve that goal.”

Guest speaker Dr Laurence Steinberg at the Sloop Awards. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published June 13, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 13, 2016 at 7:33 am)

Psychologist praises sloop foundation

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