Collegebound? What to Do in 10th Grade
Things are changing and the stakes are high.
By 10th grade, your teen will be at the tail end of early adolescence, and that is a very important milestone. While you can’t miss the physical changes occurring in your child during this season, just as dramatic are those you can’t see—the cognitive ones. Your child’s brain is exploding with new potential. He is acquiring complex and mature problem-solving and decision-making skills. She is developing a capacity for abstract thinking and psychological insight (about herself and others). Your teen is primed to become a sophisticated critical thinker and highly skilled expert in areas of strength and interest. Yah!
At the same time, your child’s emotional equilibrium is recalibrating and may frequently be out of whack. This roller coaster ride of feelings can be intense and unpredictable. Without some guardrails from parents and insight into what’s going on, your teen can be shell-shocked and distracted. Preparing for college may be the last thing on his or her mind. Uh-oh.
That’s why your No. 1 priority for 10th grade is this:
Have your teens study how their brains are changing. Knowledge is power and this will help them leverage their newfound capacities for maximum impact rather than being at the mercy of their bodies’ unpredictable growth spurts. You can accomplish this in many ways: an introductory psychology course, a biology class focused on human development, a book, a video series, or a research project. Research shows that teems who understand how their brain works are better students. (Here’s a good article about this.)
There’s ample reason to take things very seriously.
Lifelong consequences are at stake. Your child’s adolescent brain is better suited for new learning than the adult brain—test this out by both taking up a new hobby, game, or interest—note how quickly he outpaces you. At the same time, what your teen invests in during the brain’s growth spurt will become hardwired and solidified—so choose wisely. Habits are forming. If your teen spends a lot of time practicing an instrument, she’ll be able to pick it back up again anytime later in life. However, if he is laying on the couch and playing video games, those neural networks are hardening into patterns that will be difficult to break.
All hands on deck.
You have a mission-critical role in this process: Be there, listen, engage, converse. Prioritize meaningful conversations. Ask good questions. Accept your teen’s crazy ideas and interests. Be chill if you don’t agree—kids evolve if they have room to do so. I found my teens were most open to conversation at inconvenient times—like after I’d gone to bed. I had to let go of my bedtime to be available. I also found my teens often opened up on a long drive. If you notice a certain context makes your teen more conversational, make that happen often. Study the material on the developing brain alongside your teen. You will probably find she is more open to your ideas if they originate from an outside source, like a textbook or lecturer.
One more tip you can use: Teen brains are more motivated by rewards than adult brains. This is probably why teens enjoy competitive sports or join clubs with social action goals. They like short-term goals and the recognition that often accompanies them. You can use this insight to motivate your teen academically. It’s one reason my kids enjoyed AP testing—they wanted to earn that high score—and that motivated them to study deeply and extensively. I created incentives for my English students at our homeschool co-op by participating in the Scholastic Writing contest (Lili Serbicki does this at Aim Academy) and organized a competition for the top research paper and short story each year. By far and away, my kids and their friends did their best work and learned the most in subjects where a tangible reward they valued was the outcome.
Finally, the antidote for teenage risk-taking and impulsivity? Responsibility. This activates and stimulates the development of regions of the brain (like the cerebellum) that help us manage impulse-control. (Next time, decision no. 2 for 10th grade will help you with this.)
Your Brain – a course of study for 13–18 years old from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia
Learning How to Learn: A Guide for Kids and Teens by Barbara Oakley, PhD and others.