A PUSH FOR MATURITY
The MA program takes students through a carefully-ordered sequence of assigned tasks (e.g., to write a biography of a parent), psychology seminars (e.g., lectures and discussions about emotional regulation) and developmental personal achievements (e.g., a sustained consideration for others). The criteria for promotion–made concrete in clan check-lists signed off by teachers, team-leaders and therapists–are not only important in themselves, but also serve as indicators of adolescent maturity, which is one of the program’s explicit core goals. In brief, to “get through the program” requires that a teenager grow up.
MA’s program is structured to educate, encourage and prod students to acquire:
- consideration for others;
- empathy for those not just like oneself;
- fully-imagined goals and step-wise plans;
- emotionally-separate relationships; and
- social and abstract ethical thinking;
so as to transcend the narcissism, self-preoccupation, lack of goals and plans, “puppet” relationships, and selfish moral reasoning that are normal in much-younger children but not sufficient for successful adolescent or adult lives. To only think and behave childishly makes it difficult or impossible to sustain age-appropriate academic performance or to acquire a young adult social savoir-faire.
MA’s program is based upon the observation that maturation occurs in the context of adult recognition and limit-setting, sustained over time. In the absence of either one, or both, psychological maturity does not come about satisfactorily or at the proper pace. At the ranch, the program’s clan sequence provides both, in tandem. The clans are structured limits—e.g., by defining privileges and choices that clan status earns. And clan promotions are public acts of recognition of a student’s evolving maturity.
The program, and its structured recognition and limit-setting, relies upon the team. Every student joins a team at enrollment, and each student’s daily life, from the first day to graduation, is embedded in that team. Individual and group therapies center upon the team. Close relationships form among team staff and students, who eat, sleep, work and play together. The team provides limit-setting and recognition. In team group meetings other students describe, confront and discuss a team-mate’s misbehavior, or they call attention to a team-mate’s success, achievement or virtue and invite the rest of the team to recognize it. The team’s academic advisor reports to the team on Fridays each student’s weekly school performance, and problems or achievements are discussed. The team’s staff orchestrate direct and personal recognition and limit-setting, too–in group or individual feedback in therapy–and make public clan promotions (or demotions) on the basis of a student’s progress. It is on the team, in short, that the Academy’s clinical theory becomes tangible and practical–and aimed, each day, at promoting maturation in the team’s members.