Young and impressionable, adolescents are at a stage in life where outside factors such as social maladjustment, discipline, and the use of drugs and alcohol can affect their development. Adolescents are defined as the age period between 12 and 18; having reached puberty they are searching for an identity separate from their parents. Some children in this age group are defined as being at risk developmentally. Text states that millions of youth in America’s schools have had life experiences and situations that raise the flag and should be considered at risk.( Webb, Dean L. et al, 2010)
Not all is lost however, there are tools to help these children adjust and become well-adjusted students. The website search-institute.org provides teachers and educational professionals with some tools to help at risk children develop. These tools are broken down into internal and external assets such as support, empowerment, positive values, and social competencies. Each asset I then further broken down with examples of how to lessen the negative impact of the particular risk factor. With dedication and patients, teachers and educators can reduce the influence of these risk factors and increase the at risk students chances of succeeding.
Developmental assets are extremely useful to teachers as they can help chart a course to success. By utilizing the “building blocks” form the Search Institute teachers can provide a healthier learning environment for their students. While many of the developmental assets are for the home, others such as developing a caring school environment and school boundaries can be done by the teacher.
As I said in my introduction adolescents face many challenges. Social maladjustment is a major player in a child’s life development. Problems in this area can lead to the increase of other risk factors such as discipline issues and the abuse of drugs and alcohol. So what can be done to help a child who is struggling with social development? Much like a teacher performing a diagnostic assessment, it is important to try and get to the root of the problem. Understanding the root cause can help understand the situation.
Bullying, an example of maladjustment, is all too common amongst at risk children. Both the giver and receiver of the act of bullying are to be considered at risk; this behavior is a sign of insecurity and often originates with problems at home. According to the website www.bullyingstatistics.org about one in every seven children has been either the bully or the victim of bullying. Revenge for bullying is the leading cause of school yard violence. ("2010 Bullying Statistics,”)
Providing support to these children can go a long way to eliminate the act of bullying. Establishing a caring school environment can help. Establishing trust between student and teacher is key to establishing this positive environment. If a student feels they can trust their teacher and confide in them acts of bullying can often be eliminated before they escalate into larger problems. Additionally part of establishing a caring school climate means teachers, counselors, and principles alike; top to bottom an effort must be made to be vigilant. Noting problems on the playground or in the lunch room can often help to curb bullying. Establishing a zero tolerance policy for bullying will discourage bullies.
This developmental asset also ties into establishing boundaries and expectations. If a child understands school boundaries as well as the consequences for going outside those boundaries they are less likely to be at risk. Of course one of the best ways to curb bullying is by providing positive peer influence. Dr. Sandra Graham states “whether or not they have friends, whether they are accepted or rejected by their peers, whether they are victims or perpetrators of aggression and their academic lives go hand in hand” (Graham, 2011). Finding a positive peer group that is supportive can help with bullying.
Social maladjustment, if not corrected can lead to discipline issues. A child at risk often acts out to gain attention, fighting in school, misbehaving in class, and bullying are often cries for attention. A child that lacks discipline in the class often lacks discipline at home. Again as with addressing social maladjustment, conducting a pre-assessment can help understand a child’s behavior.
A developmental asset that can address discipline issues is providing a positive role model. Some children with behavior and discipline issues do not have positive adult role models. Taking the time to listen, to understand, and to teach acceptable behavior can go a long way in helping at risk children.
Respect is often lacking in children with discipline problems. At risk children often do not respect their peers or their school. As such they vandalize or abuse these things. To address the issue of respect a developmental tool to use is establishing a bond to the school. Getting the child active in school activities such as sports and clubs will increase the feeling of pride and respect the child has for the school. When a child respects the school they are less likely to misbehave.
While some aspects of poor discipline can be addressed with establishing respect, other areas are rooted in a much deeper form. The use and abuse of drugs and alcohol is a major risk factor amongst out adolescents. According to the Family Education website lack of self-discipline is a leading reason children turn to drugs; “children who lack self-discipline often show a lack of internal control and responsibility” ("Drug and alcohol," 2010).
While schools may feel powerless to eliminate the issue of drugs and alcohol, some of the developmental tools presented by the Search Institute may help. At the very least providing education on planning and decision making can plant the seeds for making positive choices. When children are first faced with the decision to try drugs, peer pressure is the overwhelming influence. However, if provided with some positive decision making skills, the child can steer themselves away and make a positive choice.
Building a child’s self-esteem and giving them a sense of purpose can also provide a positive external influence. Working with a child that is struggling in school, having them improve, giving them something to be proud of can raise a child’s self-esteem and give them a sense of purpose. Self-worth helps to eliminate risk factors and can help keep a child away from the negative environment drugs and alcohol present.
As a prospective teacher these developmental tools are a great way to give my progressive teaching philosophy a path to guide me when dealing with at risk students. As a progressivist I believe in developing the whole child. I believe that students should be left to experiment with their own idea while working toward an educational goal. My responsibility as a progressive style of teacher is to provide guidance and direction and to keep the child focused on their goals.
This philosophy can be tied into the developmental tools because this philosophy promotes confidence in the students, and allows them to have input that affects their own output. Allowing the student to take an active role in their educational path can help build their self-esteem and give them the sense of purpose they seek. A progressive teacher can adapt their curriculum and take the whole student into consideration.
There is no perfect answer to dealing with at risk children, if there was the risk would be eliminated. At risk behaviors more than likely originate at home and control of these behaviors starts at home. However our school systems can provide guidance and assistance to help reduce these factors. By using the developmental assets as tools to guide us we can affect a positive outcome on a child and at least give them a fighting chance.
2010 Bullying Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-statistics-2010.html
40 developmental assets for adolescents. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18
Drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents. (2010). Retrieved from http://life.familyeducation.com/teen/drugs-and-alcohol/39361.html
Graham, S. (2011). Bullying: a module for teachers. American Psychological Association, Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx
Webb, Dean L. et al, 2010, Foundations of American Education, 6th Edition, Pearson publishing, Upper Saddle River New Jersey