Community News

Psychological Needs

Picture of Nicholas Moloney
Psychological Needs
by Nicholas Moloney - Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 9:54 AM

As the first term is coming to a close, I have been reflecting on the many and varied programs and events that have occurred. Schools are busy places and the young men at Marcellin have such a wide range of opportunities to get involved in.

This year also saw the Depth Program embedded into Years 9 and 10. The feedback so far from the young men has been very positive and they have embraced the new opportunities afforded to them. They have appreciated the range of subjects and the links to a real-world context. That is, an understanding of why they are learning certain concepts and skills.

Several young men have also remarked that they feel more independent and have greater control over their learning. They also commented on being more focused in class and they had higher levels of intrinsic motivation.

These conversations reminded me of an article I read about raising ‘indistractable’ children and the three most important psychological nutrients that need to be met. As you read I am sure you will make connections with our Polaris model.

1. Autonomy

It might sound like a horrible idea, however, giving young people freedom of control over their choices can be a good thing.

According to one study conducted by two psychology professors, Mayan children who have less exposure to formal education show “more sustained attention and learning than their counterparts from Mayan families with extensive involvement in Western schooling.”

Dr. Suzanne Gaskins, who has studied Mayan villages for decades, explained that many Mayan parents give their kids a tremendous amount of freedom. “Rather than having the parent set the goal — and then having to offer enticements and rewards to reach that goal — the child is setting the goal,” she said. “Then the parents support that goal however they can.”

Most formal schooling in Australia is the antithesis of a place where students have the autonomy to make their own choices. In her study, Rogoff notes: “It may be that some students give up control of their attention when it’s always managed by an adult.”

What schools and parents can do: Instead of being the one to enforce strict rules on things like tech usage, help our young men create their own boundaries. The goal is to get them to understand why their screen time should be limited. The more you make decisions with them, as opposed to for them, the more they may be willing to listen to your guidance.

2. Competence

Think about something you’re good at, like cooking a delicious meal or parallel parking in a tight space. Competence feels good! And that feeling grows alongside your ability to achieve success in life.

Unfortunately, the joy of progress is a waning feeling among young people today. Too often, young people are given the message that they’re not competent at what they do. If a student isn’t doing well in school and doesn’t get the necessary support, they may start to believe that achieving competence is impossible. So, they stop trying. In the absence of competency in the classroom, students turn to potentially unhealthy outlets to experience the feeling of growth and development.

What schools and parents can do: Ease up on structured academic or athletic activities, as well as the pressures and expectations surrounding them. Have a discussion with our young people about what they enjoy doing and encourage them to pursue it in ways where they can achieve a level of competence.

3. Relatedness

Like adults, young people want to feel important to others — and vice versa. The opportunity to satisfy this need (and develop social skills at the same time) centres around opportunities to play with others.

For more than 50 years, children’s free play time has been continually declining, and it’s keeping them from turning into confident adults. Sadly, this downward spiral leaves many young people with no choice but to stay indoors, attend structured programs, or rely on technology to connect with others.

What schools and parents can do: Give young people more free time to have in-person interactions with others of their own age. This will help them find the connections they might otherwise look for online or through social media.