Piaget called the period beginning with ages 11-15 ‘Formal operations’ which means the emerging teen’s cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning. I think it is important to note that cognitive structures are not the whole experience… and that years of experience and maturity add to the differentiations between a pre-teen and an adult. Steiner pointed out that just as physical reproductive capacities mature, the pre-teen of 11-13 becomes more capable of expanding his or her intellectual capacities.
Emotionally, with the onset of puberty, Steiner said a phase of ‘Negation’—which includes pushing away from parents and authority figures—is entered into. For early teens in the ‘Negation’ phase, pushing away from the outer world often coincides with a pulling in toward their dream world. In my experience with young teens, they are usually ready and willing to begin sharing their dreams with other peers they feel safe with, and to explore their dream content creatively. At this stage, I offer dream-arts classes specifically to meet the pre-teen and young teen who suddenly experience the world differently and have changing needs.
Here’s a description of a teen’s experience in one of my Improvisational Dream Theater classes. She was 13 years old. For anonymity, I’ll call her Megan.
First, Megan told us her dream:
I’m in a green room with a loveseat and coffee table. I’m being chased around the furniture by a dragon and a little troll-ish looking person. We keep running in circles around and around. I’m screaming for help.
I asked her to cast some other young teens in the class as her dream characters. Megan cast herself as herself, a boy as the loveseat, another boy as the dragon, and a girl as the troll. She chose to cast me as the coffee table. Under her direction, we acted out the dream.
After acting out the dream, I asked Megan,
Q: How do you feel?
A: Scared, helpless…silly.
Q: What would happen if you turned around and faced them?
A: I don’t know.. they might eat me!
Q: Do you want me to help you?
A: You’re a coffee table!
Q: Yes, but in dreams, coffee tables can help you. Do you want me to?
So we turned to face them and they started running the other way. We ran after them. They yelled, “Help! Don’t get us!” Megan yelled, “Stop! We’re not going to hurt you!!!” We all laughed and fell to the floor. I advised Megan to offer her hand in friendship, and to tell her new friends they are her allies now.
Through the social act of participating in a Dream Circle, teens learn to develop a common dream vocabulary, cultivate compassion and open-mindedness to the experience of others. For teens entering Steiner’s phase of ‘Affirmation’ starting around age 16 or 17, I designed classes to focus more on strengthening the relationship between their inner and outer world so they learn to bridge their dreams creatively and become more social by simply sharing some dream-arts experiences, and collaborating with others.
The time of life between childhood and adulthood is not known for being easy, and its ups and downs can ride like the terrifying thrill of a rollercoaster. Meanwhile, teens look forward to expanding their knowledge and experience. The Dreambridge curriculum teaches them to master their inner rollercoaster, develop social skills, and find creative expression with their dreams. For more information about Dreambridge courses: www.thedreambridge.com
Piaget, J. (2000). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
Staley, B. (1988). Between form and freedom: A practical guide for the teenage
years. Stroud, U.K.: Hawthorn Press.
Steiner, R. (1996). Education for adolescents. Barrington MA: Anthroposophic