Alumna and Author Ellen Galinsky Joins Bank Street for a Conversation on Adolescent Development

On April 4, educators and parents from across the Bank Street community welcomed child development expert and author Ellen Galinsky, GSE ’70, for an informative conversation on the latest scientific research to help adults better understand and support adolescent growth.

Ellen Galinksy on stage at Bank Street event (2024)

During the event, Galinsky presented highlights from her new book, The Breakthrough Years: A New Scientific Framework for Raising Thriving Teens, and shared insights from Bank Street School for Children Upper School students, who she had visited a day earlier to gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts and experiences as teenagers.

“I always start with the subjects of the study and find out what they want to know,” said Galinsky about her nine-year research process for The Breakthrough Years, which combined the latest research on cognitive neuroscience with an unprecedented and extensive national study of young people ages 9 through 19 and their families and which focused largely on the question, “What do you want to tell the adults of America about people your age?”

During her presentation, Galinsky shared video clips of children she interviewed throughout her research, offering the audience access to firsthand perspectives on adolescent development. She supplemented the clips with quotes and feedback she secured from students at Banks Street.

Galinsky shared some of the key messages reflected in sentiments from children like, “We should be treated with respect.” “Listen and talk to us, not at us.” “Don’t stereotype us.” “We’re trying to understand ourselves and our needs.” “Encourage and help us, but let us think for ourselves.”

Within this framework, Galinsky presented science-backed evidence around effective strategies for nurturing adolescent growth, including the use of autonomy supportive parenting. She explained this as an approach parents can use to actively assist children in ways that foster autonomy and lead to deeper learning. 

Galinsky said, “Autonomy support is important in understanding adolescents when they feel they are already smart, they are capable, and our role is to help them learn the skills that they need.” 

In a video clip, a teenager shared insight into the benefit of autonomy support.

My parents sometimes hold the leash too much. Eventually, I’m going to grow. So maybe [don’t] just let go of the leash but like, walk with the leash. Kids suffer when they’re older since [parents have] been holding the leash for so long, like they’re used to it and they’re not able to expand and build upon other things.

Galinsky concluded her presentation by discussing the importance of understanding the value of building executive function skills, a fundamental set of skills that include using working memory, thinking flexibly, reflecting, and practicing self-control.

After her keynote presentation, Galinsky and Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, engaged in a thought-provoking dialogue that explored unexpected learnings from her research, the role of social media and technology in children’s mental health, and practices and structures that support children’s psychological needs.

At the end of the event, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions on topics ranging from building executive function skills in the classroom and encouraging children to take positive risks to forming trusting relationships with adolescents.

In his closing remarks, Polakow-Suransky connected Galinsky’s work to Barbara Biber, a central figure in shaping Bank Street’s approach.

“Barbara Biber talked a lot about the need to listen to children and to listen closely, to spend time learning from children about what they need, what they’re interested in, and who they want to become. And that, as you heard tonight, is also at the heart of Ellen’s work. So, we thank Ellen for bringing that forward in this way and continuing our tradition of listening to children,” said Polakow-Suransky.

Ellen Galinsky is the president of the non-profit research organization Families and Work Institute, an organization she co-founded in 1989. She spent more than two decades at Bank Street as a graduate student, faculty member at Bank Street Graduate School of Education, and a founder of the Bank Street Family Center.

View a recording of the event