One realization that emerged in reviewing the science of adolescence was that there is an ESSENCE to this period of life that is often not seen, and often lost in the stress and distraction of this sometimes tumultuous time of life. There are four vital features to adolescence that we can all, whatever age we may be, cultivate:
ES: An Emotional Spark is revealed in the enhanced way emotion generated from sub-cortical areas washes over the cortical circuits of reasoning. The downsides are emotional storms and moodiness; the upside is a powerful passion to live life fully, to capture life being on fire.
SE: Social Engagement emerges as teens turn more toward peers than parents, the downside being falling prey to peer pressure simply to gain membership in a group, the upside being the central importance of supportive relationships in our lives. Relationships are the key factor associated with medical and mental health, longevity, and even happiness.
N: Novelty-seeking emerges from shifts in the brain’s dopamine system with the downside of risk-taking behavior and injury, and the upside of having the courage to leave the familiar, certain, and safe home nest for the unfamiliar, uncertain, potentially unsafe world beyond.
CE: And our Creative Exploration of adolescence is found as we push against the status quo, imagining how things could be, not simply accepting them for what they are. The downside? Not just conforming to life as usual can be disorienting and stressful. The upside? The thrill and passion of discovery—and the reality that most innovations in art, music, science and technology emerge from the adolescent mind.
And so rather than ignoring the ESSENCE of adolescence, what if we shaped our culture—in our homes, our schools, and in our larger society—to cherish and cultivate these qualities?
Dan Siegel, Brainstorm (2011)