Hooked On Theater

Hooked On Theater: Thesis

Will Guilford

Adolescence begins at the age of ten or eleven, moving through the teenage years, and climaxing into young adulthood in the early twenties.  The word adolescence is derived from the Latin word, “adolescere,” meaning “to grow to maturity.  In sum, it refers to the stage when children grow into adults.  Physically, this is a time of tremendous growth and change.  The only period in life with greater physical growth is our first two years of life.

One can read all the current literature on adolescents including the latest brain research on their development (The Primal Teen), however, until one spends an extensive period of time with this age group, they will remain a mystery and difficult to comprehend.  As a junior high school teacher, drama director (20 years), and author of the thesis, “Adolescent Self-Esteem:  Theatre Plays a Leading Role,”  this writer has witnessed this most intriguing of stages in human development, up close and personal.  Adolescence is a stage of growth or rite of passage all adults have traversed.  Whether our memories were fond or riddled with trauma and anxiety, forever, this period is indented upon our emotional memory veins.


Over the years, research is conclusive that adolescent self-esteem is pivotal and an instrumental necessity in the maturation and development of our youth.  Clearly, the research and experience of those in the field illustrates the art of drama is a most influential tool in elevating adolescent self-esteem.  Indeed, all children (adults as well), have the desire, the biological and emotional need to be valued, grasp the sense of self-worth, and retain a healthy, growing sense of self-esteem.


All humans possess the need and desire for other human connections, a sense of belonging and bonding.  Students who do not develop strong ties and bonds within the school climate are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.  Furthermore, studies reveal a link between the transitional period of elementary to junior high school and a decrease in the young adolescent’s self-esteem.  Logically, the school experience can and should meet the intrinsic needs of students by creating opportunities via successful programs as a part of the school climate.  Adolescents continually search for understanding and acceptance.  The literature is clear:  The more schools provide opportunities to address the developmental issues and needs of the adolescent, “positive school motivation, behavior, and mental health will follow.”  Additionally, adolescents who perceive that their teachers or other significant adults view them in a positive light develop greater confidence in their abilities leading to increased self-esteem and subsequently a higher value of school.   Hence, a positive teacher regard (a teacher, coach, or director, who respects or thinks highly of a student) may contribute to social-emotional resources benefiting the adolescent’s academic and psychological well being.  Finally, positive teacher regard also relates to less school truancy.      It is imperative for educators to examine and study the effects of the experiences they provide for their students.  Fulfillment is found as we seek and uncover meaning and purpose in our work, family relations, and outer and inner experiences.  Literature, drama, music, dance, the visual arts, and sports can “reflect the reality of who we are, and, thus, become an essential part of our pursuit of meaning.”  Elliot Eisner, the noted Stanford educator states, “To neglect the contribution of the arts in education......is to deny children access to one of the most stunning aspects of their cultures and one of the most potent means for developing their minds.”


One of the most important aspects of the self-concept is self-esteem.  Though much research has been conducted over the decades on self-esteem, interest in it has not been limited to the academia.  The California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility embodies the public’s interest in the benefits of self-esteem.  The aspirations of the task force are evident in its report asserting that self-esteem “is the likeliest candidate for a social vaccine.”  The report further states that higher levels of self-esteem protect individuals and society “against the lures of crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, chronic welfare dependencey and educational failure.” The conclusion of the report states:  “The lack of self-esteem is central to most personal and social ills plaguing our state and nation.”  The primary force behind the self-esteem intiative, California State Assemblyman John Vaconcellow, was most concerned with California’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit.  Raising self-esteem, he concluded, would solve California’s economic woes and produce a balanced budget.  Vasconcellos stated bluntly, “People with self-esteem produce income and pay taxes.  Those without [self-esteem] tend to be users of taxes.”  Indeed, researchers further claim the effect of self-esteem in regards to achievement and leadership: “self esteem is a significant variable in individual productive functioning and leadership effectiveness.”


The greatest emotional need of the teenager is acceptance.  At no time in his life is his sense of identity so fluid as in adolescence.  The boy or girl is no longer a child, but surely cannot be accepted as an adult.  He or she feels a constant change in personality as well as bodily feelings and because they do not know how to cope with these, they puzzle and confuse those around them with the most inconsistent behavior.

Essential to the buiding of strong adolsecent self-esteem is the formulation of a well developed psychological support system.  Family, significant adults, and peers are the foundation to this support system, as their influence will assist adolescents in their ability to cope with stress and help in the rejection of peer pressure.  Adolescence is the first experience where one begins a closer examination of how individuals are different from one another.  Competition, who is the “best,” the leader, most athletic, popular, and physical appearance, (particularly for girls) comes into the formulation of the self.  In short, young people are judged via societal standards and how they compare to their peers.  As a species, we need challenges requiring planning and action to test our acceptance or rejection, ultimately proving ourselves to others and excelling in the process.  When one is an active participant, and ego-involved, with an indispensable role with others in things that al feel should be done,” a positive self-image is fostered.     If self-esteem is an overwhelming denominator in the success and failures of an adolescent, what can be done to ensure its infusion into our adolescent landscape? Many social scientists agree that two of the most important sources of social support contributing to adolescent self-esteem are relationships with parents and peers.  Moreover, they also concur that self-esteem can be raised when adolescents face their problems and utilize coping skills rather than avoidance and denial.  Early studies indicate competence elevates self-concept, resulting in higher self-esteem.  High self-esteem generally results from adolescents performing competently in areas important to them.  Therefore, it is important for adolescents to identify their areas of competence. Achievement can improve adolescents’ self-esteem. Indeed, if a child can master a situation and produce positive outcomes, their self-esteem will skyrocket.


Positive risk-taking can be defined as opportunities in which allow for active participation resulting in setbacks and advances leading one through the process of coping, compromise, and success.  Perhaps and Australian research of adolescents better explains: By this we mean risky behavior that has the likelihood of adaptive, healthy outcomes, but involves potential cost, such as social costs like embarrassment or failure.  Examples could be trying new sports, making social overtures, engaging in creative pursuits or behaviors requiring new levels of independence.  Such behaviors are important for adolescent development.

Why participation induces positive self-esteem is offered by researchers: .....students assess their achievement potential, set their own goals, and significant others provide encouragement to them on the basis of the youth’s past performance in extracurricular activities as well as performance in the formal academic curriculum. Hence, the literature on adolescence, self-concept, and self-esteem culminates in the overriding belief that adolescents who are supported by their families and challenged to develop their individuality and independence succeed at higher rates than those who receive only support, or only challenge, or neither.  Students need to continually raise their skill level and their challenge levels, setting in motion a dialectic of continuing growth.


Throughout history, the art of dram (“to do”) has been instrumental in the healing process.  Drama has its roots in Greece in the fifth century B.C. and in the Great Mysteries of Eleusis.  The initiation rites celebrated there are believed to have  involved participation in the performance of powerful scenes.  Initiates reportedly returned from these rituals transformed, full of joy and happiness, feeling satisfied.  As drama developed, the theatre became an integral part of healing centers such as that founded by Asklepius at Epidauros.  To this day, drama has great therapeutic value.   According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, drama is a holistic form of learning, providing a foundation for the development of physical skills, oracy, numeracy, and literacy.  Drama stretches across the total curriculum in the development of awareness, skills, concepts, and values relevant to participation in the human community.  Though self-esteem may be elevated through participation in elaborate theatre productions, a positive self-concept and self-esteem can evolve through less intense dramatic activities.  Research indicates that children who have poor communication skills tend to be less well-liked by others, and their training in conversational skills can improve social standing with peers.  Moreover, the important task of forming positive relationships are also nurtured and developed as communications skills grow through drama. Many creative drama leaders point to the improved self-concept via drama.  Because self-expression has been encouraged and positive guidance rather than criticism has been the method, the child who might otherwise feel rejected now feels that his or her ideas have importance.  Indeed, the self can stand taller. One researcher put it well: Participation in dramatic productions is both educative and enjoyable.  Drama can play a great part in promoting a child’s awareness of himself and others.  He is encouraged to co-operate rather than compete, to develop his skills for the benefit of the group as well as for his own satisfaction. Most of all, he is encouraged to use his imagination to extend and comprehend his experience of the world. Studies by this writer reflect the following data emitting from adolescent actors, thereby contributing to elevevated self-esteem:

Pride, empowerment, nervousness, excitement, frustration, and responsibility.

Accomplishment, achievement, competence, courage, adventure, hope, challenge, and self-concept.

Cooperation, perseverance, sacrifice, adjustments, setbacks, and coping skills.

Parents, family, peers, significant adults, and group support.

Time management, problem solving, planning, rewards, and self-discipline.

Social interaction, belonging, bonding, empathy, and attention.

Published, Certificated, And Copyright in the USA on 8/29/01 "FORM CORDS For a Literary Work United States Copyright Office Registration Number: TX 5359-248" And portions reprinted in Growing Up Magazine, Santa Cruz 8/2004

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