.Hello, PATH parents!
I hope you had a wonderful July with your family, enjoying some vitamin D and making family memories in the midst of pandemic challenges! It’s August now, which means squeezing in final summer fun while prepping for the start of a new school year.
Typically by now, our families are feeling ready for some normal routine again, to go back to school and fun extracurricular activities, to see school friends and start something fresh. This fall, however, we are all navigating the unknown. What will school be like this year? Will school actually re-open, or will Distance Learning (school from home) continue at some level? Unfortunately, even school officials are having a hard time nailing down the specifics, telling parents that the situation is continually evolving and details will be communicated according to current health “guidelines” once we get closer to the school year start date. So in the midst of the uncertainty and understandable frustration, we as parents have to focus on what we CAN control, which is our choice to stay positive and set our child up for success no matter what school dynamics are come late August.
This leads me to one of today’s top trending educational topics: Growth Mindset, developed by Carol Dweck (psychologist and professor at Stanford University). Basically, Growth Mindset is the theory that one’s intelligence is not set in stone, that because of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change), students can actually further develop their intelligence through engaging in challenging activities. While a Fixed Mindset says that you are limited by the IQ with which you were born, a Growth Mindset says that you are not limited at all, that persistent effort and taking on challenges, trying different strategies and learning from mistakes, actually grows the neurons in your brain. Like a muscle that grows through resistance and exercise, our brain can develop, too. Apparently, the neuron pathways of an expert are much thicker than those of a beginner, illustrating the results and benefit of hours of concentrated time, attention, and focused effort (mistakes and resulting corrections included).
Researchers found that students who were only praised for their intelligence, often avoided harder challenges since they would have to risk making mistakes. Hearing their whole lives how “smart” they were, they viewed making mistakes as an indication that Maybe I’m not that smart after all. Those students believed that their natural ability should be enough and were not very keen on putting much effort into anything that did not come naturally. In fact, they not only fought a lot of stress and anxiety when things felt difficult, but they also typically avoided or quit difficult assignments.
Students who had been taught about Growth Mindset, that challenges are positive and that continued effort grows one’s brain, were more apt to give new (and even difficult) things a try. When students were praised for effort, they were more apt to put forth quality effort repeatedly and eventually succeed at mastering new concepts.
There are countless resources that you can find online to further explain Growth Mindset and why it is so valuable for your student. (Here is a great article to get you started: How Not to Talk to Your Kids) I will also be creating some videos for you this month, with tips for practically using Growth Mindset with your teen. Even though the term is relatively new, I was recently reading through some quotes by Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and realized that some elements of the theory are not new at all! Look at a few lines from this famous creator of incredible inventions, including the light bulb:
“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”
“I haven’t failed—-I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Reportedly, his mother raised him with the following guiding principle: “Never get discouraged when you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.” (Source). As we parents move our “Thomas Edisons” into the school year, with lots of potential changes from what we all know as “normal,” it’s so important that we remind our teens that they grow from new and challenging things! Something that feels “really hard to do” does not mean you are not smart; it just means your brain is growing from the challenge! It means you simply need to find new strategies for tackling it.
If we will praise our teens for specific behaviors that they are doing well (i.e. You worked so hard at that, great job!), they will have more willingness to push past their natural abilities, tackle difficult assignments, and grow. Plus, the satisfaction gained from succeeding (via learning through failed attempts) builds healthy confidence and self-image in our teens.
If we as parents end up “stuck” with facilitating Distance Learning again this school year, we can frame school-from-home to our teens as a great opportunity to learn and grow in ways that will ultimately help them. We can teach our students to see adversity as opportunity and to value the growth that comes from tackling challenges. We can teach them to use one of English’s most empowering words: YET. I cannot do this...YET! (This is one of my favorite Growth Mindset principles!)
When you get a moment, please check out the links I embedded and then come back to the Parenting Corner for the videos I talked about, too. Please also take some time to enjoy the last few days of summer, as they will no doubt fly by!
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.