It’s time to arm teenagers with knowledge of psychology

by Michele Arnold on March 4, 2014 · 2 comments

in eating disorders,narcissism,personality disorders,psychology

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a psychology course for high school students. All the lesson plans, except “Emotion,” are locked because only Teachers of Psychology in Secondary School (TOPSS) can open them. The “Emotion” lesson looks comprehensive (it includes a section on neuroscience); I just hope the teachers who use the APA course infuse all the lessons with real-life examples so their students can relate to the important concepts the teachers wish to impart.


For example, when narcissism comes up, it would be instructive to point out, for example, that a high school football player who rapes a 16-year-old girl with one of his buddies, and allows other buddies to watch the rape and live tweet it, might very well qualify as a narcissist.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an excessive sense of self-importance, an extreme preoccupation with themselves, and lack of empathy for others.”

The narcissism lesson might include information about the bystander effect. The 1964 Kitty Genovese case is a good opener, but the one that will really catch the students’ attention is this hypothetical one: Would a group of high school students at a party do anything to stop two football players who were carrying a girl, so drunk she was passed out, by her ankles and wrists and were carting her behind closed doors?

Would students who were witnesses to a rape via Twitter do anything to help the rape victim?

Contrast this hypothetical situation with waiter Michael Garcia at Lorenzo’s restaurant in Houston in January 2013. He heard a customer, referencing a child with Down Syndrome eating at the next table, say, “Special needs kids should be kept in special places.”

Risking his job, Garcia told the rude customer he would not serve him or his guests and asked why he would say such a hurtful thing to a child and his parents. Garcia sets a great example for the anti-bystander effect for high school students and adults.

Eating disorders

Thin thighs and a flat stomach are meaningless things for anyone to strive for.

I hope any high school psychology course in 2013 would touch on body image and the deadly consequences of eating disorders. A great real-life example is Cameron Russell, a thoughtful underwear model who recently gave a TED talk. She hoped girls would hear and take to heart that modeling is not a career path. She warned about the power of image and how easily it’s manipulated by those who wish only to profit from it.

Isabelle Caro eating disordersIt would be best if all high school students saw this slide show of Isabelle Caro, right, a French model who starved herself to death so she could be “successful.”

The teacher might remind students that males can have eating disorders, too. Hollywood actor Dennis Quaid is one of them.

Much too soon

By high school, it’s too late to warn students about pedophiles; some students will have already been sexually exploited by pedophiles. This story is from 2000, but it’s still relevant and would give students a real-life look at what it’s like to be molested by a pedophile from the victim’s point of view:

“Aftab estimates there are about 30,000 pedophile sites. With Internet pedophiles, they can hang out in communities,” she said. “That’s a big danger. They don’t feel alienated, and they just feel like they’re misunderstood.”

High school students have a lot going on – they’re studying, dealing with hormones, navigating a barracuda social scene and perhaps dealing with bullying and shunning. They need all the support they can get, including a psychology course with examples of real monsters and real heroes that can help them thrive in this uncertain period in their lives.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

James Jones April 7, 2014 at 9:18 am

Since psychology is basically the study of human behavior,why not have humans study themselves starting at a early age.Maybe we can have better understanding of why we see what we see in the news and what can be done to change behaviors.

Debi Strong March 8, 2014 at 6:07 pm

As the mother of a freshman daughter in high school, I applaud your efforts to promote an awareness of psychology and related issues to her age group. Although she gets a steady dose of such information from me, it would be oh so helpful if others in her class were exposed to these types of subjects. Education on what narcissism actually looks like would do more to end bullying than most of the anti-bullying campaigns, in my opinion.

Making kids aware of the psychology behind advertising would go a long way as well. I can’t help but cringe when I watch television with her because of all the ads that sell the promise of sex with their products, or promise happiness with weight loss, or promise some sort of other “prize” for some standard of physical perfection set by Madison Avenue and its ilk (a standard which is more likely, as your thoughtful underwear model would attest, the result of winning the genetic lottery).

Can you imagine the industries that would go bankrupt if we all were more accepting of ourselves, flaws and all? And how much more time and energy we would have if we spent less time obsessing about fat on our bodies, the “wrong” kind of hair (color/texture/curliness), blemishes or wrinkles on our skin, the whiteness of our teeth, the style of our clothes?

Huge changes in societies don’t happen overnight, and they don’t happen by edict. But the more individuals change their personal paradigms, the more likely they are to change the culture they live in. How many of us are willing to give it a try??? Thank you, Michele, for pointing us in the right direction!

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