As some of you may remember, I applied to college as a junior this year, in an effort to move from my current school (with its academic and social limitations) to a new environment and academic experience. The good news is that I got accepted to 2 very prestigious American universities. The bad news is that neither felt quite right. One is very rural and revolves around Greek life (and I’m certainly no party animal), and the other is very technology and science oriented in such a way that humanities are viewed as somewhat inferior on campus. As you can tell, I’m rather attached to writing and the humanities at large, and being in a place where the humanities are stigmatized is not my ideal university location. Plus, two semesters of physics are required for graduation… shudder…
As a backup, in case I wasn’t accepted to college, I applied to two boarding schools and Stanford Online High School, an online platform that offers Skype-based classroom instruction and clubs. In a stroke of potential madness, I have elected to join Stanford’s program.
I never envisioned myself following this path next year. I imagined myself at college orientation, immersed in a college social life, balancing classes with time to explore my new home (which would have been the East Coast). Turning down 2 very well-reputed universities seems illogical if not preposterous. But so does going to a school in which I do not fit the mold and don’t feel quite “right.” If I’ve learned anything from this process, it is that intuition is capable of overriding logic, facts, analogies, personal stories, and just about every other piece of empirical data available. Whether or not intuition should reign supreme, I don’t know; but today, I am trusting it.
So I will be a high school student online, and that will take up about half of my time. It is what I plan to do with the other half that I want to write about, for it could very well be the experience of a lifetime. Perhaps you all can be my beta-testing crowd (more details to follow).
I’m a bit of a neuroscience junky, if such a passion can be combined with the word junky at all. In my free time I read psychology and neuroscience books aimed at explaining human behavior on a day-to-day emotional and mental level. I would consider this and writing to be my academic niches, though I enjoy a wide range of subjects.
Unfortunately, there is not much accessible (by which I mean comprehensible) literature about the neuroscience of adolescence. In my experience, there are very few resources for teenagers to explore and learn about their brains and psyches from a scientific and humanistic perspective. There are even less resources for teenagers struggling from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other adolescent problems to understand the neurological underpinnings of such conditions and disorders. Most information about such topics is dense, academic, and virtually incomprehensible to the average person, let alone the average fifteen-year-old.
An understanding of neuroscience and psychology is invaluable to the modern teenager. For the first time in history, we can begin to describe the physiological basis for mental illness, addiction, sexuality, social behavior, and puberty. We are starting to grasp the changes that occur in adolescence and the science behind why teenagers can be so intelligent and yet so irrational. This knowledge is not only good information to have on hand; it can literally change a person’s outlook on life. If you’re depressed and associate that with your personality, you may begin to hate yourself and see your life as unsalvageable. If you can see depression as a neurological condition, a chemical imbalance brought about my both circumstance and genes, then the future doesn’t appear so dark. Mental health issues and every aspect of life can be converted from personality and spiritual defects into physiological ailments with cures that include medication, but also mental tools such as meditation, socialization, attention to the present, positive habit-building, exercise, and increased personal reflection. We have the science to back these methods of healing now, but we fail to explain to the greater population of teenagers that the science is there.
This coming school year, in collaboration with my current school (who has generously offered up the sponsorship of a new faculty member who studied at Stanford’s adolescent brain research institute), I am going to build a Youtube channel and website with video and written content bridging neurological advancements with the everyday lives of teenagers. My goal is to help teenagers understand their brains, not in an impersonal way, but in an empowering way. Goodness knows our generation has healing to do, and we can now ground that healing in physiological science. That’s pretty exciting.
My website will likely be up and running sometime in August, and I would love it if you would all help me by spreading the word when that time comes. Perhaps you could watch a video or two and send your comments and healthy criticisms my way.
Pertaining to this year as a whole, I will only say this: For the first time I really am walking the road less traveled. Does it scare me because it presents somewhat of a risk? Yes. Is it worth it? I cannot say yet, for time will tell, but I have a strong intuitive feeling that it will be.