In recent years, character development and behavioral/emotional health in adolescence have attracted intense interest. A national conversation exploring “emotional intelligence” or “grit” or “non-cognitive skills” is moving in a variety of directions. In some ways, the founders and staff of Montana Academy have been laying the foundations for this conversation for nearly two decades.
In the Research section of this website (under the “What We Do” tab) you will find a discussion of the development of the Montana Adolescent Maturity Assessment (MAMA), a diagnostic and predictive tool shaped by the observation that many dysfunctional behaviors evinced by troubled teens are a function of delayed or disrupted maturation. The program at Montana Academy has had remarkable success in responding to this problem, helping adolescents to “grow up” and get on with their lives as self-aware, productive young adults.
There are now many voices in this national conversation about character development. On this page, we present what we hope will become a growing resource for those interested in this subject. Here you will find links to newspaper articles and TED talks (many with a brief annotation), links to governmental and academic programs, and links to non-profit organizations working in the field.
If you would like to contribute material to this archive, please connect with Dennis Hartzell, Executive Director of the Montana Academy Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dennis can also be reached at 415 310 0426.
This study recently appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. It presents disturbing data on the increasing prevalence of mental health disorders among American teenagers, with a particular focus on grim statistics related to suicide rates among 15-24 year-olds. The lead author on the study is Jean Twenge, whose most recent book is IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.
This op-ed piece appeared in the Sunday, September 9, 2018 issue of The New York Times under the headline “Teenagers Aren’t Losing Their Minds.” The author is Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College. Friedman’s view is that many recent reports of a disturbing spike in severe anxiety among American teenagers (several of which appear below) are based primarily on anecdotal evidence and not on comprehensive, rigorous scientific studies.
Amanda Ripley’s article in the September 13, 2016 issue of The New York Times begins with a reference to the “Stubborn Child Law” passed in 1646 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Ripley goes on to summarize and discuss a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (A link to that study, led by Christopher Bryan, is included in the text of Ripley’s essay. You might want to take a look at the “Significance” and “Abstract” sections of the Bryan’s work.)
This column by David Brooks appeared in the November 27, 2015 issue of The New York Times. Brooks. Here is the final sentence of Brooks’ discussion of how great schools commit to cultivating character: “Most of the time character is not an individual accomplishment. It emerges through joined hearts and souls, and in groups.” Those of you familiar with Montana Academy will recognize that truth.
The National Health Service in England is several years in to an unprecedented effort to treat mental illness, with a focus on depression and anxiety. The program offers talk therapy, at no charge, at clinics throughout the country. Results to date show dramatic progress in the provision of care along with a significant reduction in the stigma attached to psychotherapy in the land of the “stiff upper lip.” Benedict Carey’s article appeared in the July 25, 2017 edition of The New York Times.
This article from the October 1, 2015 issue of Health Affairs is a sobering look at the individual and societal impacts of mental health problems in the U.S. The four authors cite date indicating that the occurrence of mental health conditions among young people is higher than that of physical health conditions. Furthermore, the costs associated with mental health disorders in youth are greater than for diabetes, cancer, and respiratory illnesses combined. The article identifies common barriers to care and recommends integrated approaches to treatment.
Jennifer Taylor is a therapist in Northern California (and an attendee at the Foundation’s October, 2017 conference in Whitefish, MT). This concise list of ten considerations for parents of teenagers appeared in the August 24, 2017 issue of the Marin Independent Journal.
This article appeared on May 9, 2019 on the website of ChildTrends, a non-profit research organization that has focused for forty years on improving the lives of children and youth. The authors summarize current research and evidence-based practices to respond to the needs of children and adolescents exposed to trauma. The article explores the common types of childhood trauma and discusses a therapeutic approach commonly described as “trauma-informed care” (TIC).
The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs was established in 1999 and has grown to include 187 members, 47 of which support research programs focused on standards and best practices for organizations offering residential care to troubled young people. The Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs is published annually and features a range of studies focused on adolescent mental and behavioral health.
This article by staff writer Gaby Galvin appeared on the U.S. News and World Report website on July 10, 2019. The state of Connecticut has funded an emergency mental health response program that dispatches trained therapists in response to calls to a “2-1-1” hotline. The Mobile Crisis Intervention Services program focuses on adolescents and responded to 20,000 calls in 2018.
The link above takes you to the website of the Pew Research Center, which announced in February, 2019 the results of a survey of 920 U.S. teenagers aged 13-17. The results of the survey are startling. Fully 70 percent of the teens identified mental health as a significant issue. These data were consistent across gender, race, and income lines.
Matt Richtel is a novelist and reporter for The New York Times. His column appeared in the April 24, 2015 issue. It examines the heart-rending suicide clusters involving adolescents in Palo Alto, CA, and considers the implications for students of school and family cultures focused on a certain standard of achievement.
This leader from the March, 16, 2019 issue of The Economist begins: “In any given year one person in six is afflicted by a mental illness.” The piece goes on to cite the growing scarcity of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists and the consequent impact on those sufferers who cannot identify or afford professional treatment. Programs that train “talk-therapists” in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) have had positive impacts on a national scale in England and in Zimbabwe.
(From The Washington Post on May 15, 2019.) When a fellow student posts on social media about self-harm, Beth Swanson’s teen-aged daughter seeks her mother’s help. Swanson identifies ways for parents to cope with this troubling, and increasingly common, experience.
This article appeared in the “International” section of the January 13. 2018 issue of The Economist. The article cites extensive data indicating that “young people in rich countries are better behaved and less hedonistic than in the past, but also more isolated.” Various explanations are evaluated, from economic changes to family dynamics to the influence of technology and social media.
A professor of psychology at Hunter College in New York City, Tracy Dennis-Tiwary writes in the “Sunday Review” section of the July 15, 2018, issue of The New York Times that the “conventional wisdom about the relationship between troubled kids and their favorite technology is wrong.” While she accepts that compulsive use of smartphones is often accompanied by anxiety and depression, it is likely that “device addiction” is more a symptom than a cause.
This article by Jessica Lahey, a teacher and writer (The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed) addresses the connection between deep, retentive learning and emotional engagement. According to neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “It is neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.” Lahey’s piece ran in the May 4, 2016, issue of The New York Times.
Freelancer Markham Heid posted this article on the Time Health website in October, 2017. While acknowledging that successive generations of parents have bemoaned their kids’ preoccupation with new technologies (television and video games come to mind), Heid makes a case for the problematic impacts of smartphones on today’s teens.
This article by Perri Klass, MD, appeared in the June 3, 2019, edition of The New York Times. Klass addresses a range of questions regarding possible links between a teenager’s use of social media and increased rates of social anxiety, depression, and other mental and behavioral disorders.
Citing a study published in April, 2018 by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Amy Ellis Nutt (reporter for The Washington Post) explores possible causes for the 20% increase in diagnoses of anxiety in American youth. Mental health professionals identify social media, volatile environments, and competitive pressures as contributing factors.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the U.S., affecting nearly one-third of adults and adolescents. This article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis appeared in the October 15th issue of The New York Times Magazine and explores the impact of social media as a possible cause of the dramatic increase in severe anxiety among adolescents and young adults. Denizet-Lewis also examines the use of “exposure therapy,” a treatment technique often incorporated in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Damon, William. The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life. New York: Free Press, 2008.
Damon, William. Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in our Homes and Schools. New York: Free Press, 1995.
Freeman, Daniel & Freeman, Jason. Anxiety: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2012.
Kindlon, Dan & Thompson, Michael. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.
Levine, Madeline. The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressue and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. New York: Harper, 2008.
McKinnon, John. An Unchanged Mind: The Problem of Immaturity in Adolescence. New York: Lantern Books, 2008.
McKinnon, John. To Change a Mind: Parenting to Promote Maturity in Teenagers. New York: Lantern Books, 2011.
Porter, Susan. Relating to Adolescents: Educators in a Teenage World. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009.
Reedy, Brad. The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child’s Struggle & the Road to Home. New York: Regan Arts, 2015.
Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore discusses how developmental changes in the pre-frontal cortex help us to understand the distinctive adolescent tendencies towards risk-taking, impulsivity, and resistance to authority
Brené Brown is a social science researcher, a professor at the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston, and the author of three #1 New York Times best-sellers. Her work on vulnerability, shame, and empathy is quite extraordinary. This 19-minute TED talk is a powerful introduction to her work.
Author Jennifer Senior (All Joy and No Fun) explores why contemporary parenting seems so fraught with anxiety and what to do about it. This 18-minute talk combines historical contexts with common sense.
Guy Winch is a clinical psychologist and author. His 17-minute talk focuses on the practice of “emotional first-aid,” being as attentive to our mental and emotional well-being as we are to our physical health.
ORGANIZATIONS WORKING IN THE FIELD OF ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a rich source of information and resources for teenagers and their families. By clicking the link above, you will gain access to material focused on Child and Adolescent Mental Health. For example, under the heading of “Teen Depression,” there is readily accessible material that clarifies what depression is and is not. There is also advice on steps to take under such headings as “You Are Not Alone,” “Depression Is Not Your Fault,” and “Ask For Help.” In addition, there is an informative overview of the several different types of anxiety, including panic disorders, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. There is also a discussion of signs and symptoms, risk factors, and available treatments and therapies.
Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study is a large, ten-year research project funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This project is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. Nineteen sites across the country will participate, enrolling approximately 10,000 subjects. The study protocol includes work on mental health assessment, as well as substance use and the influence of culture and environment.
Funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, and in collaboration with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, the BAHI addresses five pressing public health issues in the U.S., including Risks to Adolescent Health. By clicking on the link above, you can sign up for weekly email updates on the activities of this program.
Founded in 1994 and based in Chicago, CASEL focuses its resources on research, practices, and policy in the advancement of social and emotional learning (SEL) in American schools. Working with school districts across the country, CASEL provides a framework for the development of SEL curricula for students from pre-school through high school.
Center on Adolescence, a research entity within the Department of Education at Stanford University, the COA’s primary focus is the development of purpose during adolescence and beyond. Purpose is a forward-looking intention to accomplish goals that are meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.
Character.org, formerly known as the Character Education Partnership, describes itself as “The home of the global character movement. A non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., Character.org focuses on 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, a practical guide for developing ‘schools of character’.”
Character Lab was founded in 2013 by Angela Duckworth (author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and a professor at Penn), David Levin (co-founder of the KIPP charter schools), and Dominic Randolph (Head of Riverdale Country School). A non-profit organization based in Philadelphia, Character Lab describes itself as “advancing the science and practice of character development.”