Parenteen Interview Exclusive on Dan Siegel’s presentation: Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain at Lick Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, on October 16, 2014.
Averie Kellenberger (class of 2016) interviewed by Beth Ohanneson.
Dan Siegel’s research has shown that the teenage brain is designed for social connection, innovation, and a passion for new ideas. He explained how the brain prunes, specializes and thickens during adolescence, in the service of maximizing neural integration. New abilities emerge that are crucial for both the individual teenager and for the survival of our species, including: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. Given that these changes have an enormous impact on teens, we are fortunate to have a teen’s take on Dr. Siegel’s presentation.
Beth: Thank you for taking time to share a few of your impressions about Dan Siegel’s talk with us.
Averie: You’re welcome.
Beth: Dan Siegel views adolescence as a distinctively vibrant stage of life, rather than as a dreary transition that that teens and parents must suffer through because of social myths like “teenagers are driven by raging hormones and immaturity so they don’t think about the consequences of their risky behavior.”
Averie: Sure. Why consider adolescence as NOT having any value? That’s rude! Otherwise you could just say that as soon as you’re born, you’re just in a straight transition to your death. Saying adolescence doesn’t have value really implies that no stage of life has any value. His ideas felt respectful. I appreciated that.
Beth: What did you like best about Dan Siegel’s talk?
Averie: I liked it when he asked the audience to consider how ridiculous it is that kids are pressured to get into the best high schools, so they can get into the best colleges, so they can get into the best graveyards! That was funny, but not really. It is a crazy way to think and it affects me right now. I am a teenager living in a culture that has a crazy preoccupation with college. The truth is, whether you go to a Junior College or you go to Stanford, you’re still going to die someday and in the meantime, schools don’t determine your humanity.
Beth: Do you feel a lot of academic pressure now, during your junior year in high school?
Beth: Dan Siegel talked about how relationships influence the way our brains and minds develop. Relationships that offer warmth, safety, and a genuine interest in one another’s thoughts and feelings, can help stabilize life during stressful times. Do you think your relationships help you manage the pressures you face right now?
Averie: No, they add to it. School is what people talk about. Parents say, “How was your day at school?” Friends say, “ What did you get on that test? Teacher’s say, “ Here’s your homework.” Everyone I know works really hard in school. We’re expected to get perfect grades, excel at sports, be leaders, contribute locally to save the planet, spend time with family, get enough sleep so we can be really passionate about something, and oh yeah…just be yourself.
Beth: Tall order. Well, would you say that you have any relationships in which you can really just be yourself? Relationships that help buffer some of the pressures you feel?
Averie: Certain people, yes. Some of those people do offer a lot of help and support, like my close friends and my family. But relationships are complicated. No one person always helps. Most people also add some level of pressure, big or small, because everyone has different needs at different times. Like Dan Siegel said, sometimes I’d just like to stay in the Oatmeal House and not have to think about anyone else’s needs.
Beth: That’s nice! Dan Siegel talked about how childhood is like living in the Oatmeal House: a place from the past (real or longed for) where your mom brings you oatmeal while you watch cartoons and it’s Saturday morning and there’s no rush and no pressure and you get to stay in your pajamas all day and get cuddles and kisses and you can eat as much oatmeal as you want.
Averie: Yeah, well, don’t get too comfortable with the Oatmeal House idea because I will be moving out and going to college at some point.
Beth: Got it.
Averie: Dan Siegel’s whole talk was about how we should value adolescence, but I think that adults value teenagers who fulfill a social obligation to rise into adult social circles. That is another part of the pressure.
Beth: So, that’s what some adults value. What do you actually value? According to Siegel, part of the “work of adolescence” is to differentiate yourself from other people’s ideas of who you should be, while staying connected to the people whom you trust to love and support you. Setting aside what other people think for a minute, what do you really value right now, at this stage of your life?
Averie: Feeling happy. I like to be with my friends. I like taking walks, and generally being outside. It’s easy to forget what you actually like to do. There’s not much time to think about it. I like being with my friends. The rest, I’m still working on.