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The successful leap from adolescence to adulthood

Originally appeared at

April 16, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Of the many papers written on the topic of how we learn, John Abbott’s story of Lieutenant Peter Puget remains the most popular. It is more a story than a paper – although it was originally prepared for a conference – and describes the story of Peter Puget’s development as an adolescent midshipman into a successful Rear Admiral.

Being a midshipman, Puget had to learn a range of skills including navigating the ship using a sexton and climbing the rigging in howling gales in order to trim the sails along with fellow sailors. He had to learn how to command the ship and gain the respect of fellow sailors.

John says of midshipmen: “Their entire adolescent energy was spent learning to perform complicated tasks – boredom they did not know and pocket money they did not have.”

Puget went on to have a hugely successful career at sea and is credited with discovering the Pacific North West.

The paper is not simply a story of Puget, however. John ties in Puget’s story and experiences of adolescence with historical context – at the time, bored adolescents at Eton were busy rioting – and also with current research around the development of adolescents, including the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his work on ‘flow‘ and what makes adolescents tick.

John concludes that the work of Csikszentmihalyi broadly reflects that of Confucius. Those  adolescents who make the best transfer to adult life are those who take responsibility for themselves.

“Those youngsters who make the best transfer to adult life are those who, as adolescents, were most involved in, and responsible for, themselves. Adolescence is a time to demonstrate that you have learnt so much from your early life experience that you now need to demonstrate that you can do it yourself.”

The story doesn’t end there. Whilst researching the paper John discovered that Puget had lived 18 doors down from his home. So, they were almost neighbours – separated by a few doors and a mere 180 years.

Read John’s paper: Lieutenant Peter Puget, the grain of the brain and modern society’s failure to understand adolescence

[Pic credit: Washington Secretary of State]

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