District News

Understanding the Teenage Brain, Part II

Understanding the Teenage Brain, Part II: Tips for Connecting with Your Teenager

The first part of our “Understanding the Teenage Brain” series emphasized the importance of connecting with your teenage child. When a family is connected, a teenager can safely experiment with autonomy and try new things. That experimentation is an important part of teenagers becoming successful, independent adults.

As all parents and guardians know, building and maintaining a relationship with a teenager can be easier said than done. We talked about ways adults can reach teens with Valley High School counselor Karla Hardy; district teacher-leader Carrie Jacobs; and two representatives from the Youth Justice Initiative’s Resiliency Project, Ashlee Swinton and Clarice Wireman.

Ten Tips for Connecting with Your Teenager

1. Believe in your family.

Our sources encouraged parents and guardians to be confident in their own skills. Hardy reminds parents and guardians that they are not defined by their children, and children are not defined by their actions. No one parents perfectly, and no one does it the exact same way. You have to find the right style for you and your family.

2. Foster the connection.

Make it a priority to keep the connection with your child healthy and open. Ways to do that include:

— Volunteering as a family. Service works gives families a common goal and a tie to the community.
— Family game night. Some research suggests playing rule-based games helps kids learn about boundaries, societal norms, and self-regulation. When the whole family plays, it is a great chance to bond and make positive memories.
— Have family dinner. This one can be hard to accomplish consistently. Do your best to make time for it, even just once a week. Try brunch or lunch on the weekends if that works better for your family’s schedule.

It is a great idea to build this connection early in your child’s life. Routines like cuddling at bedtime and reading are a good place to start. If you feel your family has lost its connection, there is always time to rebuild. Use these ideas, or look into family classes through the Youth Justice Initiative or Employee and Family Resources.

3. Hold on to your humanity.

As a parent, it is easy to start thinking you have to do it all and know it all without making mistakes. This is impossible, and teens will often see through the facade of perfection.

“This generation has amazing soft skills,” Hardy said. “They have such an intuitive side, and they figure things out. We don’t need to hide from them.”

When appropriate, ask your kids what they would do in your shoes. Do not be afraid to tell them you feel unsure.

“Especially when you get to the teen years, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know,’” Jacobs said. “It makes you more human to them.”

4. Make expectations clear.

Teenagers and adults perceive things differently. Prevent conflicts by meeting as a family to set values and expectations.

“Make expectations clear and realistic,” Swinton said. “That realistic part is so important.”

She used the example of a clean bedroom. Saying “Clean your room” creates questions: When should it be cleaned? What does “clean” really mean? Instead, say, “Your cousin is staying over this weekend, so please clean your room by Friday night. It should be clean enough that your cousin can sleep on the floor.” You can also set clear lists of tasks, like picking up, making the bed, and doing the laundry.

Also make your expectations clear to other parents and guardians. Talk about your rules, their rules, and what your kids are doing at each house.

5. Tackle the tough topics.

Not all topics are easy to talk about. Conversations about sex, substances, and the future are all important, and all notorious for shutting kids down. The best way to get past their embarrassment is modeling nonchalance.

”If you act like you’re nervous, they’re going to be nervous,” Jacobs said. “They read you more than you think they do.”

After a good conversation, remind your child they can talk to you. Establish yourself as a judgment-free resource for them from the beginning. If you want, have the conversation while driving. Your kids will not be able to leave the conversation, but they also will not have to hold direct eye contact, which can be intimidating.

“Don’t underestimate the value of time in the car with your kids,” Wireman said. “Those are moments of connection if you don’t get caught up with being on the run.”

6. Listen.

There is a lot of guidance for parents on how to talk to their teens. Do not forget the importance of listening.

“What’s helped the most is acknowledging, ‘Yes, I see the struggle. I understand,’” Jacobs said. “Offer the logical here-and-now pieces when they start questioning the big concepts.”

Remember, heightened emotions make everything seem like life or death to your child. Something important to them, should be important to you. You may need to offer some perspective, but teens might reach the same conclusion on their own if you listen.

“When they feel that space clear, they’ll start to talk,” Hardy said. “They’ll want to fill that space.”

7. Balance responsibilities and boundaries.

Find a happy medium between total control and out of control. Teens are testing boundaries, and to some extent, that helps them.

“The whole purpose of this age is to start developing their own autonomy,” Jacobs explained. “It’s this constant push and pull between parent and child.”

Parents know that back and forth is exhausting, and it can be tempting to give in. However, having no structure and few rules can make it harder for teens to grow and learn about adult life safely.

“As they get older, it’s okay to give more and more responsibilities,” Wireman said. “There’s also a time when we have to set some boundaries and be consistent with them.”

8. Keep your cool.

It can be hard not to react in the moment, but it might save you an argument in the end. Don’t hesitate to “cool off” before talking.

“Kids read emotions a huge percent higher than what adults do,” Swinton said. “As an adult, I can filter through the emotion and read the message. Kids can’t do that.”

This means that, instead of hearing what an adult says, teens will hear anger or frustration. Do not deny your emotions, but set aside time to process them, then come back and discuss with your child.

Plan a simple catch-all response like, “I want to talk about this, but I can’t right now. Let’s talk about it in two hours.” You can also use some standard responses for frequently revisited topics. If you do take time to cool off, set a time frame for returning to the discussion. That way, the issue will not get lost in the shuffle.

9. Let your family move on.

If you do run into an issue, do not let it take over your family. Deal with it, then move forward. “Remind them: ‘You’re going to make mistakes and screw up, but it’s going to be okay,’” Jacobs said.

This does not mean letting things go. Teens need to understand consequences to become successful adults, so correct behaviors, but do not hang on to issues. Set and keep limits, but do not let times they are broken define your family. This will also help parents and guardians stay in a non-anxious state when interacting with teens.

“Parents who parent out of fear don’t get the results they want,” Wireman said.

10. It isn’t personal.

When it feels like your child is disobeying you on purpose or trying to hurt you, remember that many of those behaviors come from changes in the brain that have nothing to do with your parenting.

“We can talk to them about it all we want to, but they can’t learn it any faster,” Swinton said. No matter how many times you talk them through it, your teen will still be impulsive, emotional, adaptable, accepting, and risk-taking, until their brain develops fully.

Helpful Teenage Children Serving Food To Parents In KitchenAt the end of the day, it is all about helping your kids become successful adults, and the most important thing you can do is love and support them.

“We all want happy, content kids,” Wireman said. “You can’t shower too much love and care on them. People worry about spoiling kids, but you can’t spoil them with love.”

 

For more information on talking to your teen and connecting your family, check out these resources, which will be updated periodically:

Social Media Tips for Families

Youth Justice Initiative

Employee and Family Resources

The Age of Opportunity

Sixth-Grade Students Teach Technology, Learn Leadership

When West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) sixth-grade teacher Aaron Witt assigned his students classroom leadership roles, he never expected they would end up talking to the Iowa governor’s office or working with the world’s first $9 computer.

Inspired by the Leader in Me student leadership development model, he had each student fill out a survey at the beginning of the school year about their interests.

Layne Slater and Carson Copple checked “techology” and became Witt’s classroom’s technology leaders, responsible for organizing classroom technology and managing class social media.

Copple and Slater set up a Play-Doh keyboard using Makey-Makey, an interactive keyboard kit.

Copple and Slater set up a Play-Doh keyboard using Makey-Makey, an interactive keyboard kit.

They also persuaded Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to kick off the school’s recent Hour of Code activities with a press conference at Jordan Creek Elementary. In addition, the two sixth-graders led Hour of Code programming sessions with younger students.

“It was a big event for them,” Witt said. “It was a neat opportunity to put them in a leadership position to teach something the governor’s office had just finished hyping to the kids.”

Slater and Copple invited the governor, as well as the mayor of West Des Moines and every presidential candidate, to their Hour of Code assembly. The governor’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) council decided it was a good way to kick off Computer Science Education Week.

Slater and Copple pull up Pac-Man, a vintage game made new with developing technologies.

Slater and Copple pull up vintage Pac-Man, to use with their new keyboard.

To help organize the event, the Slater and Copple took part in their first conference call, during a weekday lunch. It did not occur to them that getting to talk with the governor’s office was out of the ordinary; they considered it one of their duties as technology leaders. They were more surprised by their fellow students as they taught kindergartners and first- through third-graders throughout the day.  

“I liked how they listened a lot more than you would think,” Layne Slater said. “They all liked it and wanted to learn more.”

It is difficult to imagine not wanting to learn more from Slater or Copple, whose enthusiasm for technology is infectious. During a recent presentation to the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education, they were eager to answer questions about keyboards they made out of Play-Doh and bananas using Makey-Makey, an interactive keyboard kit. They also use Google Cardboard, goggles that pair with a smartphone to let the user experience virtual reality.

Slater and Copple are also passionate about C.H.I.P., the world’s first $9 computer. Witt contributed to the Kickstarter campaign at the end of last school year to help fund the production of C.H.I.P. and received one of the first models.

“When C.H.I.P. showed up, it became a pet project for them,” Witt said. “I basically gave it to them and said, ‘Figure this out.’”

The computer, which is just a bit larger than a standard USB drive, came blank at the time. They had to “flash” it, or add an operating system (OS), with help from Witt, other programmers, and the Internet.

“The first month or so, we figured out how to turn it on and how to write some code to it, but it didn’t do much,” Copple said. “It wasn’t like a real computer yet.”

Witt compared C.H.I.P. to an infant: full of potential, but in need of direction. Once it had a working OS, the students were able to teach it how to connect to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They are still pursuing their goal of turning it into a Chromebook equivalent. This may take some sophisticated programming, but the technology leaders were not discouraged.

“Sometimes computers can cost a lot of money, and these only cost $9,” Slater said. “This way, you can get a computer and the knowledge you need to build a computer.”

Witt was not surprised by their enthusiasm. He sees technology leadership as an interactive way for his students to learn about the technology all around them.

“When I was a kid, computer science wasn’t threaded into absolutely everything,” Witt said. “These kids have had technology in their hands since the first day they can remember.”

The students have also started to internalize the importance of technology skills. They enjoy programming, but both sixth-graders also brought up the job market when asked about the benefits of learning to code. They know it will help them as they head into a future filled with computers and fast-changing technology.

“Coding is pretty fun,” Copple said. “It’s hard to learn, but the limits are endless.”

Reminder: No School Feb. 26 — Professional Development/Staff Work Day

There will be no school for students on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. It is a professional development and staff work day for teachers, who will be working on building goals.

Life in the WDMCS 2/29/2016

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Learning Academy
KCCI meteorologist Jason Sydejko and a stormchaser from the Iowa Storm Chasing Network spoke to a third-grade Clive Learning Academy class on Feb. 25. The class got hear about Sydejko’s job and learned about natural disasters.

Crestview School of Inquiry
Tim Smith, author of the popular “Buck Wilder” series, visited Crestview School of Inquiry on Feb. 22. He talked about the importance of hard work when writing, completing schoolwork, and telling stories. “You don’t have to be the best in your class, but if you want to publish books, or be a great cook, accomplished musician or basketball player, you need to be the one who tries the hardest,” he told students. Read more here.

Crossroads Park Elementary
The entire Crossroads Park Elementary student body and faculty attended the iowa Energy game on Feb. 9. The game was the schoolwide reward for reaching the fundraising goal during the fall Race Day.

Hillside Elementary
Hillside Elementary kindergartners attended the matinee performance of “Room on the Broom” at the Civic Center in downtown Des Moines on Tuesday. They enjoyed learning about theater etiquette, the bus ride downtown, seeing the 2,700+ colored seats at the Civic Center, and especially the performance of a favorite children’s book.

Jordan Creek Elementary
Children’s author and former Jordan Creek teacher Michelle Eastman visited Jordan Creek and spoke to students in grades K-3. She read her book “The Legend of the Dust Bunnies” to the students and talked about her new book, “Absolutely Aggie.” She also encouraged the students to try their hand at storytelling!

Stilwell Junior High
On Feb. 24, students and teachers at Stilwell Junior High participated in a “Mix It Up” lunch. They were assigned table numbers and had the opportunity to get to know new friends through conversation starters and teacher trivia.

Valley High School
Valley’s wrestling team celebrated its Dual Team Class 3A Championship Sunday and congratulated Coach Travis Young for being named Class 3A State Coach of the Year by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.

Walnut Creek Campus
Walnut Creek Campus students, families, and staff recently held the annual Volleyball  Tournament and Chili Cook-off. They tasted different chili recipes, and there was a three-way tie for first place in the volleyball tournament.

Support Staff Contract Negotiations to Begin

Support staff members at the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) will begin negotiating their 2016-2017 contract on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at the Learning Resource Center, 3550 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines.
The West Des Moines Educational Support Personnel (WDMESP) will represent the support staff members and its chief negotiator, Becky Duchesneau, will present the WDMESP’s initial proposal to the school district at 4:30 p.m. The district’s chief negotiators, Paul Bobek and Carol Seid, will present the district’s 2016-2017 initial proposal to the WDMESP at 4:45 p.m.
Th​e meeting​s​ ​on February ​24​ ​are open to the public.
 

WDMCS Reads Announces Contest for Local Writers

The West Des Moines Public Library and the West Des Moines Community Schools are still accepting submissions for the WDMCS Reads Poetry Writing Contest as part the district’s community reading initiative.

wdmcs_reads_crossover_book_cover

“The Crossover,” by Kwame Alexander.

WDMCS Reads celebrates our community by inviting the residents to read and discuss the same book. In the inaugural WDMCS Reads book selection, “The Crossover,” author Kwame Alexander shares the story of seventh-grade basketball phenomenon Josh Bell in an authentic voice through verse.

Share your own original poetry by submitting an entry to the WDMCS Reads poetry writing contest through Feb. 29.

The writing contest is open to all ages, from kindergartners to adults. Students may submit their entries at the schools. Adults may submit their entries at the West Des Moines Public Library. Entries may also be submitted to Jenna.Ehler@wdm.iowa.gov.

For contest rules, drop-off locations and additional information, please visit www.wdmcs.org/wdmcs-reads or www.wdmlibrary.org.

Winners will be announced March 10 on the Des Moines Register online and at www.wdmcs.org/wdmcs-reads or www.wdmlibrary.org. Winners will receive a signed copy of “The Crossover” or other book by Kwame Alexander, depending on the winner’s age, and be invited to a special meet-and-greet with Mr. Alexander during his visit to Valley High School on March 31.

For more information about WDMCS Reads, please visit www.wdmcs.org/wdmcs-reads.

Life in the WDMCS 2/22/2016

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Learning Academy
Clive Learning Academy sixth-grade students attended Junior Achievement BizTown on Feb. 18. Students learned about the community and economy, financial literacy, and business planning prior to their visit. They also had the opportunity to apply and interview for jobs with a panel of guest teachers. On the day of the visit, each business produced a good or service, and worked to create a profit and pay off a business loan. They balanced their own checkbooks after each paycheck and visited other business as consumers during breaks. All businesses successfully paid off their loans during this year’s BizTown real-world learning experience.

Hillside Elementary
Students at Hillside Elementary have been having fun in the school’s Knit and Crochet Club. Beginning students are working with experienced volunteers, while others have knitting or crocheting experience. Knit and Crochet Club meets every week after school, and all materials are free to the students.

Jordan Creek Elementary
First-graders at Jordan Creek Elementary participated in Cultural Day on Friday, Feb. 12. They took a musical tour of Mexico, learned Kenyan beading, practiced dances from India, and played different Chinese children’s games.

Life in the WDMCS 2/15/2016

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Crestview School of Inquiry

Cameron Storbeck is a student who will always be remembered at Crestview School of Inquiry. There is a “Cameron’s Corner” in the library, of books she checked out in kindergarten and first grade, along with others that have been donated since her corner was established in 2014.  Recently three of her classmates, now fourth-graders, decided to decorate her corner for Valentine’s Day.

Special thanks to these girls for their thoughtfulness in remembering a little girl who brought so many much joy throughout her life.

Crestview School of Inquiry recently celebrated the 100th day of school. They counted to 100 in hundreds of ways, using cups, hats, and necklaces to celebrate 100 days of learning.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Jordan Creek Elementary second-graders hosted a Character Counts assembly on Feb. 8 to teach the school about the new focus character pillar: Respect. The students performed a reader’s theater program and role-played some real-life examples of respect in action, using their recent ocean projects.

Understanding the Teenage Brain, Part I

Understanding the Teenage Brain, Part I: The Importance of Connections

discussion3Parents, adolescents, and everyone in between can find the teenage years puzzling. Even Classical Greek philosopher Aristotle and famed playwright William Shakespeare penned questions about adolescent behavior.

Many teenage behaviors can be explained by changes happening in the brain during this specific period of development. It is important to note that the “teen” years can stretch beyond 13-18. Some of these behaviors may start showing up as young as eight, and they can continue into a person’s mid-twenties.

During this time, the brain is growing and changing as it experiences synaptic pruning. This means the brain is learning which connections it uses and strengthening those, while trimming away the excess. A National Geographic article on the teenage brain cites Vassar psychologist and adolescence researcher Abigail Baird, calling this period “neural gawkiness—an equivalent to the physical awkwardness teens sometimes display while mastering their growing bodies.” The changes can make teens seem impulsive and dramatic, but also allow them to be highly adaptable.

“Some parents think you just have to hold on—you just have to breathe and get through it,” Valley High School counselor Karla Hardy said. “We think these can be some of the best years because (teens are) trying things out, but they’re still protected.”

That layer of protection is why it is important for teens to have a strong family connection during the teenage years, even if they do not realize it. The teenage brain is a match for an adults when it comes to mental power, but thought processes come from a different part of the brain. Simply put, when adults make decisions, they use logic. Teens use emotions.

Another main feature of the teenage brain is its desire for connection. Teens are highly motivated by social rewards and are experimenting with independence by relying more on their friend groups for support. This can create what is known as the peer effect.

“If adolescents made all of their decisions involving drinking, driving, dalliances, and delinquency in the cool isolation of an experimenter’s testing room, those decisions would likely be as risk averse as those of adults,” adolescence researchers from Temple University said in a 2013 research summary. “But therein lies the rub: Teenagers spend a remarkable amount of time in the company of other teenagers.”

Humans spend more time with peers their own age during adolescence than any other time of life, and they are wired to want those peers to like them. When teens experience a social reward, it registers much more intensely than it might for an adult. Some brain scans indicate that teen brains “feel” peer exclusion the same way they would threats to life. This can lead them to taking risks to impress or attract their peers.

“The teenage brain is all about risk-taking,” district teacher-leader Carrie Jacobs said. “While that’s awesome in learning, they don’t have the forethought to see that (something) is going to be a bad decision.”

The Temple University researchers summarized two different simulated driving tasks focused on risk. In both, adults and teens took a similar number of risks when they were alone. With a peer in the room, teens took 50-100 percent more risks and “indicated stronger preferences for immediate over delayed rewards.” Adults did not change their behavior.

This desire to connect with peers is not always a detriment. It can also lead to future successes. The teen brain is open, flexible, and unafraid of new things compared to the adult brain—in fact, it seeks out change. This makes teens capable of leaving the safety of home to venture into the unknown “real world” with success. Combined with wanting to be liked, this can make teens amazing networkers. They are driven to connect with new people, building a support network for when they do leave the family.

During this period of growth and preparation for life on their own, teenagers still need a lot of support from parents and guardians. Not only do adults have logical thought to offer, they have life experience. The best thing parents and guardians can do is make sure their teens see them as resources. That trust comes from another connection—the bond between a child and their parent or guardian.

“The personal connection is a feeling,” Hardy said. “If they know, at the end of the day, they are unconditionally loved, that will strengthen the family.”

To learn more about connecting with your teenager, watch the district website for the second part in this series. Hardy, Jacobs, and Youth Justice Initiative representatives will offer more insights into the teen mind and provide tips and resources to help parents reach their teens.

 

Sources

Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs, from “National Geographic” (2011)

The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction from the National Institute of Mental Health (2011)

The Teenage Brain: Peer Influences on Adolescent Decision Making by Dustin Albert, Jason Chein, and Laurence Steinberg; from “Current Directions in Psychological Science” (2013)

Youth Justice Initiative

Winter Weather and Bus Safety

School busWinter weather means extra caution is needed on the road, especially when it comes to transporting children. The WDMCS transportation department wants to remind all district families of the safety procedures it follows to make sure students remain safe while riding and getting on and off the bus.

Procedures include:

  1. Extra training for bus drivers. All drivers receive training in maintaining traction, driving at reduced speeds, being prepared for unexpected weather condition changes, and increased following distance.
  2. Taking care of the diesel fuel bus engines. It is important to maintain the correct fuel mixture to prevent gelling in cold conditions. The transportation department also plugs in the buses in the winter to keep the oil warm so they consistently start in cold weather.
  3. Teaching students about bus stop safety. While this is always important, it is especially emphasized in the winter months. Drivers will review safety tips, like waiting 10 feet back from the curb and not running to the bus when it arrives, with students.

If weather conditions are severe, there are four main transportation alternatives:

  1. Delay bus routes by a designated time.
  2. Delay school opening time.
  3. Early dismissal. When weather conditions deteriorate during the day, students will be returned via normal bus routes unless otherwise announced.
  4. School closure. Inability to operate the majority of the buses because of weather conditions will require school closure or a delay in starting time.

In each of these cases, buses may run late. If you have any questions or concerns about winter weather procedures, please contact the transportation department at 515-633-4902.