One of the most fascinating aspects of being a teacher is working with young people. Every day is different – the events, the emotions and the incidents. To be honest, a young person’s energy and excitement means our school is often loud and unpredictable, but the rewards can also be priceless.

A famous quote about teenagers is:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

This quote was from Socrates in approximately 440BC. I am sure you have all had this discussion with your own friends at a recent dinner party!

Then from Plato, who also complained about the youth of the day:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions.
Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”   

The ideas about teenagers and adolescents have not changed over the centuries, but we are beginning to research and understand more about this significant and profound period within a young person’s life.

 The research into growth and development indicates that, “adolescence is the phase of life stretching between childhood and adulthood”, which has shifted significantly over the past sixty years.  Adolescence includes aspects of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century.  

This earlier onset of puberty is seen in all populations, while its endpoint age is now well into the twenties. At the same time there is a delayed timing of role transitions, including completion of full-time education, marriage and parenthood, which continue to shift the point that ‘adulthood’ officially begins.  

So, what does this broadening of the definition of adolescence mean? It confuses many of our current social norms and expectations. Arguably, the transition period from childhood to adulthood now really occurs between ten years old until potentially twenty-four years old; this at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and wellbeing across these years.  

The influx of social media and smart phone technology has introduced our new generation of adolescents to a very different world to navigate. We also know that specific health issues can reduce access to education. These can have a direct impact on learning, e.g. specific learning disability, intellectual or developmental disability or an indirect impact on learning through school disengagement or school absences. 

In 2015 the World Happiness Report stated, “Our schools should become as concerned with the wellbeing of children as they are with academic performance.” 

The Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals 2008 had as one of its core outcomes that,“All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.” This was elaborated as individuals have “a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing.” 

Research from PISA 2018 also confirms that school belonging and connectedness is one of the most significant protective factors in many risky adolescent behaviours, including early sexual initiation, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, violence, self-harming behaviours and absenteeism. It also suggests that students with higher school-connectedness performed better across every academic measure.  

This is why at Snowy Mountains Grammar School we pride ourselves on the vertical house tutor program in the Senior School and ‘WeMeet’ in Junior School. This time is dedicated to building and developing authentic relationships with teachers and other students. Dedicated time is spent on positive education, focusing on social and emotional learning (SEL). Specific and targeted skills are taught to enhance each individual student’s sense of self-worth and personal identity. Programs are strategic and age related. These include resilience, pro-social values or problem-solving skills. It also encourages a sense of agency and responsibility, building optimism and hope for the future. 

We are also developing a unique program designed specifically for boys. This will focus on those young men in our care, aged between fourteen and sixteen, mainly Years 9 and 10, whom we know are experiencing a rapid physical growth at a time when school sometimes seems irrelevant. This program will see a number of key elements to allow these young men to learn in a different way, be encouraged to explore their world in more practical and specific ways and encourage them to talk more to each other.  

We are also excited about continuing the Values Project and looking to 2020 when we will introduce Positive Education across the school. Positive Education is embedded in the science of positive psychology and the program is broken up into five domains. The PERMA framework looks at: 

1)    Positive Emotions

2)    Engagement

3)    Relationships

4)    Meaning

5)    Accomplishment

This focus on Positive Education will assist our community to thrive and flourish. The goal of Positive Education is to reveal a person’s character strengths and to develop the ability to engage those strengths. This will be incorporated in each class and specific wellbeing lessons.  The focus will be always student-centred, with the main objective improving outcomes for every student. We want our students to feel connected and supported. We know when this happens we improve academic success, alongside a young person who will be happier – happier to pay attention, try harder, persevere, have greater levels of community service, and be more creative and curious.