Speakers Series: Dr. Abigail Baird (The Teen Brain)

Dr. Abigail Baird


By Courtney White

Parents and guardians know it is hard to watch your child be in a risky situation. Dr. Abigail Baird, who researches the brain and behavioral basis of adolescent development, gave an impassioned and humorous talk Tuesday, May 9th as part of the Mind Science Foundation Distinguished Speakers Series. In her talk, Dr. Baird explained that while it is difficult for parents to watch their kids struggle or even fail in attempting new skills, the struggle is instrumental for children to learn and ultimately succeed. This valuable lesson can also be applied in the classroom, as learned by the teachers who attended the Speaker Series event. Tickets for area teachers were generously donated to Teacher Enrichment Initiatives (TEI) by the Mind Science Foundation.

Childhood is all about learning the lessons necessary to be a successful adult. Children’s brains are still developing as they try to navigate the complex social structures of their peers and of society, which can lead to some missteps. Any adult who has ever spent any time with a teenager quickly recognizes this truth and may even recall some of their own growing pains. One teacher wrote the lecture helped “explain the behaviors I have witnessed in my years of teaching teens.” Teachers interact and witness their students’ struggle on a daily basis. Dr. Baird’s research was reassuring as she confirmed what teachers intuitively know: childhood is hard. Every day brings new experiences and learning opportunities for children as they learn to deal with emotions and decisions while balancing their need for acceptance by their peers.

Dr. Baird’s research provided teachers with evidence to explain how the still-developing minds of their students determine how they interact with the world. Dr. Baird explained the complex relationships that evolve from interactions with other students. This information led some teachers to respond that they “will try to observe more and react less”, providing a safe environment for students to make mistakes. Another teacher left the lecture with a better understanding of “the power of social learning and the ability to use it in a positive way ” in her teaching practices.

It is important, according to Dr. Baird, for adults, including teachers, to understand the impact of social interactions between students of all ages. It is equally important to allow students the opportunity to find a solution when a problem arises. This can lead to lasting positive social skills that will help them succeed in school and in life.

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