Friday, August 5, 2011

Two Teen Journeys - One Tragic, One Triumphant

Most mornings I start the coffee, put fruit on my granola, and sit down to read the San Antonio Express-News. What I see are stories about people who had great mentoring and coaching during their teen journey, and those who didn't.

Today I happened to read a story (by Michelle Mondo and Hollie O'Connor) about Pierre T. Abernathy, 30, who was chased by police between 3 and 4 AM because he was driving on the wrong side of the road. The chase led the police to Pierre's mother's house. When the officers wanted him to get out of his car, Pierre struggled with them. Back-up arrived, and he injured three officers before he ran out of steam. Exhausted, he collapsed in the back seat of a cruiser, stopped breathing, and died.

Who was Pierre T. Abernathy? Not much is known. He lived with his mother and other family members. He had spent the night drinking and drove home drunk. According to court records, he had a history of resisting arrest, evading arrest, driving while intoxicated and drug possession.

According to his mother, he had a history of mental illness. Her perspective on the incident: "The police do what they want, when they want, how they want, and we don't have any voice. We just pay their paycheck."

Abernathy was a man who had no impulse control - few if any circuits in his prefrontal cortex to moderate his emotions and urges. These neural pathways need to be ingrained through repeated thought and action during adolescence, when the window for prefrontal cortex development opens, then closes. Some people get a lot of development during this period, lots of coaching to interpret, analyze, evaluate, understand, problem solve, decide, plan and manage. Others don't exercise this area much at all. On the surface, it seems that Abernathy did almost none of this kind of thinking and activity during his teen years. After the window for prefrontal cortex development closed, the consequences cascaded throughout his later life. In Abernathy's case, that life was turbulent, wasted and lasted only 30 years.

On the same page of today's paper was a contrasting story (by Karisa King) about 17-year-old Zhetique Gunn, who was raised by a single mother in publicly subsidized housing. Zhetique was the valedictorian of her class at Holmes High School. "Just because my family doesn't have certain things, that's not all that we are. We also have substance to us," she said.

She says she'll attend the University of Houston and pursue a career in engineering. She credits her success to her mother's emphasis on education. Even before her teachers began assigning homework, her mother required her to finish workbook lessons before she could go to the playground. Her mother told her she would have a career, not a job.

According to the story, she achieved her academic success despite, as a freshman, having to move from hotel to hotel and live out of boxes for months after their apartment grew infested with mold. "I learned that I can't control where I'm living. So I focused energy on my school."

People don't get to choose their parents, but parents have an enormous impact on a teenager's development - and future life as an adult.

The kind of adult coaching a young person gets - or fails to get - can have a huge impact. Here are two books that are incomparably rich in adult coaching...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls)

Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Beth said...

Ms. Gunn is a wonderful archetype for the sort of individual who blooms wherever they are planted. I would love to understand why some people become flowers, some become predatory weeds, and others just lay down and die in difficult environments.