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  • Dawn Spragg

Born to Be Wild Review

As promised, I want to share my reaction to Jess Shatkin’s book, Born to Be Wild. I can honestly say that this is a wonderful read, but a word of caution: it is not for the faint of heart. The research is dense and at times difficult to wade through, but it is the basis for Shatkin’s challenge to society’s current ideas about why kids take risks and he offers great advice for parents and people who work closely with teenagers!

It was once thought that teenagers engaged in risky behaviors, because they thought that they were invincible, and many of our parental responses and community systems are built upon this construct. How many of us as teens were shown videos of drunk driving accidents during Driver’s Ed to discourage us from making this mistake? Or were grounded when we broke our parents’ rules so that we would learn not to take risks? But as Shatkin’s research makes clear - teens respond better to rewards, which means change is needed. A good portion of his book makes practical suggestions about what this change needs to be, not only for parents, but also for systems, and communities.

The comprehensiveness of this book is one of the things that I really love about it, but what I enjoyed most was reading Shatkin’s thoughts on self efficacy. Self efficacy is not just self-esteem or confidence; Shatkin describes it as, “believing that you can accomplish what you set out to do.” While the idea that developing self efficacy is important to teens isn't new, his proposal that it be at the center of our parenting and our community institutions is.

He doesn’t suggest this is going to be easy. He says, “Establishing self-efficacy and emotional self-regulation takes patience, guidance, and empathy,” and it has to come from all the players in teens’ lives. Even more dauntingly it requires that we allow our teens “to learn from personal and vicarious experience and have lots of practice with decision making.”

How do we parent a teen in such a way as to illuminate the path that they should follow, instead of scaring them onto it? How can the justice system be used to uplift the lives of the teens who pass through it? Taking steps towards answering these questions is worth the price of the book itself!

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