As every parent knows firsthand, developmental growth during the teen years rivals that of the first two years of your child’s life. Cognitively, teens are beginning to think for themselves and interpret the world around them in new ways. You probably experience your child’s move toward independence as both frustrating and encouraging. That behavior is not only normal but is necessary for healthy intellectual development.
Psychologist Jean Piaget names this stage in your teen's life the Formal Operational Stage. It usually begins around the age of 12 and lasts into adulthood for most people. To maximize your teen's growth during this period, experience is vital.
The Formal Operational Stage encompasses two major changes in human thinking:
- Hypothetico Deductive Reasoning - Your teen will begin to be able to develop hypotheses based on prior knowledge and experiences. They will start to think through problems and try to find solutions rather than work through trial and error.
- Abstract Thinking - Your teen can now move beyond the literal and think conceptually. They do not need to have a direct experience to gain knowledge of a topic.
How to Maximize Learning Experiences
Since the key to the Formal Operational stage is the ability to think abstractly, this is a good time to present teens with a variety of experiences that stretch both their imaginations and their logical thinking skills. Providing students with many and varied experiences adds to the bank of information they are developing. With this in mind, “experience” increases that bank of knowledge in a way that textbooks and lectures cannot. As part of a complete school curriculum, learning outside of a traditional lecture provides students with additional support in creating a solid knowledge base.
When teens are beginning to think in the abstract, you'll want to find the right school that both fits their personal style and capitalizes on their growing ability to think abstractly.
Some of the top private high schools in DC are doing things to ensure that teens are gaining experiences that help them learn rather than lectures that encourage them to memorize:
- The simplest is to create interaction in the classroom -- among the students themselves and between student and teacher. A student-centered approach to teaching and learning asks the student to take responsibility for their own learning. They are required to question material, to collaborate with classmates, and to create hypotheses based on new information.
- Field trips are another way to help develop learning experiences. Students can view primary sources and artifacts at a history museum to learn about a topic firsthand. They can visit zoos and aquariums to witness biology.
- Students can intern with organizations either related to their future careers or of interest to the curriculum. Hands-on experience with a professional helps to shape learning and provides students with new ideas.
- Experiments in science and math ask students to create hypotheses and test them out. They are challenged to integrate their past knowledge with ideas based on information they read or are given by their teachers.
Why the Teen Parent Connection Matters
Parents can play an important role in their teen’s educational development by encouraging them to participate in a variety of learning experiences. The interactions that teens find in authentic situations like those provided in the community - internships, field trips, and service-learning projects – are powerful. Focusing on experience rather than traditional learning may seem like a risk, but knowing that your child's brain is equipped to turn experiences into knowledge makes it a risk with very little to lose.