Think you understand what makes young people tick? Think again. Award-winning author and expert on teenage brains Nicola Morgan shares five factors which are often overlooked, but which hold the key to effectively supporting today’s young learners.
I’m delighted to be giving the keynote speech at this year’s NACE Cymru Conference, in Cardiff on 28 June. I’ve been asked to write a blog post introducing some of my ideas. I’ve thought of “five things we forget at their peril” – ideas which underpin my philosophy and which will, I hope, resonate both with those of you who can’t come to the conference and those I’ll be talking to on the day. I will explain everything in detail in my speech, with fascinating science!

1. Young people know a lot about a lot... and very little about a lot

Today’s teenagers know far more than I did about the “big wide world”. Thanks largely to the internet, social media and globalisation, they’ve interacted with people from different backgrounds and cultures, been exposed to wide-ranging ideas, breathed diversity, celebrated difference. They are often streetwise, worldly wise and knowledgeable in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
But we should not overestimate their knowledge of basic psychology, biology and life skills. They often don’t know that headaches and stomach aches can be a symptom of stress or that sleep and calories are necessary for learning and brain function. They don’t always know about metacognition or growth mindsets and far too often have too much done for them by their parents.

2. Young people do not have our life experience – they do not know that “this too shall pass”

How young people’s bodies and brains react to stress is almost identical to our own: they feel the same; they are the same; prick them and they bleed, stress them and their bodies flood with alerting chemicals. But they arrive at these pressures new. They do not know, because they have not experienced, that how they feel about something today is not how they will feel tomorrow or next week or next month.
We need to tell them, often – just as we remind our own friends in pain or turmoil – that everything changes, passes, morphs into something manageable and often something forgettable. In my keynote, I’ll talk about the brain difference that underpins this, but let me just say now that they are in the moment because the moment is big and new and dramatic and all-consuming. They are less able to look ahead and to rationalise. But they will learn to do so faster if they have the chance to try and if they are guided.

3. Failure is the greatest risk our students face, and the lucky ones will fail soon

We want our young people to be resilient, to cope with setbacks. Resilience grows from experiencing difficulty and being supported, with empathy and metacognition, to pick ourselves up and try again. To get back in the saddle.
Too many parents and schools raise the stakes until failure is The Worst Possible Thing. But failure only means that you aimed high enough. Real success comes from being ambitious, understanding “what went wrong” and keeping on trying, but trying better. Too many of our brightest children don’t experience failure at school and are failure-phobic, coming to a crashing fall later. Ditto their parents, who helicopter in to prevent the failure.    

4. Stress is life-saving and dangerous, performance-enhancing and performance-wrecking

Don’t be afraid of stress: it enhances your life and gives you the physical and mental state for super-performance. The key is to know your triggers and symptoms and learn how to feel stress when you need it and not when you don’t. My course Stress Well for Schools teaches all this in detail.

5. Digital natives do not have specially evolved brains

They were born with the same brains as the rest of us. They’ve spent a lot of time on screens so they have learned those skills. The more time we spend doing something the better we are at it. It’s very simple: use it and don’t lose it. There are skills you have that “digital natives” don’t have but which they could learn, too. They’re not special.
“But, surely, they’re better at multi-tasking? They do it so much, no?” Ah, no. The opposite. In my keynote, I’ll explain exactly why and exactly what they are better at… Trust me: the science on this is fascinating, revealing and important. And relevant to us all.
I look forward to meeting many of you at the conference in June!
Nicola MorganNicola Morgan is a multi-award-winning author and international expert on teenage brains and mental health. Her expertise includes the impact of stress on wellbeing and performance, the effects of screens and social media, and the science of reading for pleasure. A former teacher and dyslexia specialist, Nicola was a prize-winning novelist whose career changed after the success of her bestselling examination of the teenage brain, Blame My Brain, shortlisted for the Aventis Prize, and The Teenage Guide to Stress, winner of the School Library Association award in both the readers’ and judges’ categories. The Teenage Guide to Friends, her popular teaching resources, and the forthcoming Positively Teenage and The Teenage Guide to Life Online, have established Nicola as the go-to expert in her field.
For free information, resources and classroom materials, visit Nicola’s website.

**Special offer** Nicola is offering NACE readers a 10% discount on her Stress Well for Schools and Brain Sticks classroom materials. To benefit from this offer, simply place an order through Nicola’s website by 20 July 2018, using discount code NACE18.

Find out more…

Join Nicola in Cardiff on 28 June at the NACE Cymru Conference – bringing together school leaders, teachers, researchers and policy makers to discuss and share evidence-based good practice to support more able learners. If your school is a NACE member, book your place by 23 March to benefit from the members’ early-bird rate.
View the full conference programme
Wednesday, January 31, 2018