I was reading an article in the New York Times by Jan Hoffman on a recent study done by Dr. David Yeager, an Associate Professor at UT Austin who has been doing research on the processes that shape adolescent behavior for many years.
This study involved giving groups of high school freshman a simple reading and writing exercise intended to instill the message that “people can change.” To an adult, this concept may seem more obvious, but to a teenager who is being bullied at school or who has few close friends it can feel like they are doomed to feel this way forever.
If teenagers can recognize that their personalities are not frozen, (nor are the personalities of their tormentors) and feeling excluded does not have to be forever, this message can be powerful. The ninth graders who received this message in this study had reduced levels of stress, more confidence in their ability to cope, and improved grades.
As Director of Odyssey Teen Camp the past seventeen years, I have had a chance to witness profound changes in many teenagers. Some arrived at camp quiet and shy and in a short time were on stage beatboxing in front of the entire camp.
Other teenagers came to camp with a tough, angry facade, and left a few weeks later laughing and sometimes crying, but feeling a whole lot lighter and happier. We have plenty of tools at camp that supports teenagers to change the things they want to change, and many mentors available to help them recognize their own gifts and greatness.
Probably the best thing camp can help to give a teenager is a feeling of acceptance and the trust that they will not be bullied or made fun of for expressing who they are and what they are feeling. That can be the catalyst for some amazing change.
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A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity.