Do schools cause the well-documented difficulties of adolescence?

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There was a minor furore on social media following the publication of an article on The Conversation. The article reported the results of a study on secondary school students in Ireland that found, “…a small but steady decrease in well-being from junior, through to the middle and senior groups.”

To her credit, the author allowed that, “Hormonal changes during puberty also play a significant role.” However, she then went on to speculate about the role of social media and exams, finishing with recommendations about therapy dogs, muscle relaxation and students deploying their ‘top strengths’.

Those on Twitter who are sympathetic to claims that schools and exams are evil – i.e. those with a progressivist education philosophy – committed the statistical sin of assuming correlation was causation and speculated on just why secondary school is such a bad thing. To be fair, The Conversation encouraged this kind of speculation by framing the article with the headline: “Well-being of students starts to decline from the moment they enter secondary school.”

Note that the author is highly unlikely to have chosen this headline.

Going back to those hormonal changes, a comprehensive review article identifies three stages of the changes that adolescents go through. In early adolescence, “Puberty heightens emotional arousability, sensation-seeking, reward orientation.” Middle adolescence is associated with, “…heightened vulnerability to risk-taking and problems in regulation of affect and behavior.” Finally, things start to improve in late adolescence as the brain’s frontal lobes mature.

Schools are likely to have very little to do with any of this.

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3 thoughts on “Do schools cause the well-documented difficulties of adolescence?

  1. Pingback: Do schools cause the well-documented difficulties of adolescence? — Filling the pail | Desde mi Salón

  2. Helga says:

    It’s also possible that the causative effect is due to other school-related factors, such as excessive influence of same age peers (blind leading the blind) and the vapid, ensuing ‘teen culture’. I don’t doubt that hormonal changes kicking then are a problem, but kids with meaningful responsibilities outside school and strong relationships with trusted adults (not their parents), seem to fare better. A lack of alternatives to school for that age group could be a problem too. The idea that nearly everyone needs to be in a classroom till the age of 18 is a modern novelty.

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