Once we settled upon Montana Academy’s central focus and clinical mission—to remove obstacles to maturation and to restore developmental momentum in “stuck” teenagers—we needed a measure of maturity. We needed to gauge a student’s immaturity at enrollment and assess maturity again at graduation, months later, to discover whether we had accomplished at graduation what we had set out to do at admission. With a metric to measure improved maturity we also hoped to distinguish what helped from what did not, and so to improve the work we were doing.
In particular, after our experience with our first hundred students, we wanted to measure a teenager’s maturity along the five dimensions that parents implicitly described when they complained about a son’s or daughter’s difficulties. Because these dimensions were described over and over again, we could tick them off on our fingers: (a) selfish self-preoccupation and self-importance (narcissism); (b) an obliviousness to others feelings (lack of empathy); (c) a failure to connect present behavior to future outcomes (lack of goals, plans or reflexive anticipation of consequences); (d) a “puppet” quality in close relationships; and (e) concrete, selfish ethical thinking (a lack of abstract or social moral ideals, such as “honor” or “the good of the family”). Despite the panoply of surveys, rating scales and psychological test instruments in use in American psychology and psychiatry, unfortunately, we could find none that measured “maturity” along these same clinical dimensions. We found none that measured what we wanted to gauge—the relative immaturity of a teenager’s “approach” to the challenges of a modern adolescence.
And so we had to invent one. In 2004 we saw that, from a parent’s point of view, each of these dimensions was a continuum—from immature to mature. Parental complaints about a son’s or daughter’s attitude or behavior implied that a different attitude or behavior would be desirable. Rather than a selfish, self-important, self-preoccupied attitude at home, for example, parents wanted a son to be considerate of his siblings and parents. Rather than be preoccupied only with what she wants, right now, parents wished that a daughter would imagine goals and follow step-wise plans to get from now to that anticipated end—and so on.
From this logic we created a list of statements alluding to each of these dimensions of a young person’s approach. To begin we asked parents to do the ratings, inasmuch as we knew that no shift in a child’s maturity had much significance if parents, themselves, could not discern it. Accordingly, we asked parents to rate along a five-point scale (from Never to Always) whether each statement was an apt description of a teenager’s characteristic ways of thinking and behaving. Here are a few statements from the new measure:
My child is grateful for all that I do.
My child sticks to a task, however long it takes.
My child would cheat on an exam, if he/she didn’t think he/she would get caught.
After a few hundred ratings, we whittled our scale down to a 35-item assessment we called the Montana Adolescent Maturity Assessment (parent version)—or, for short, the MAMA-p.
For some years now we have asked visiting parents to complete the MAMA-p and then to complete it again, about eighteen months later, at graduation. We also ask for ratings of academic and interpersonal functioning, psychological symptoms and medication use. We also have done cross-sectional full-campus ratings during Parent Work-Shops, i.e., with every parent rating their sons and daughters on the same day, some students in Earth clan, some already at Moon or Sky clans, and some, nearing graduation, at Star clan. Here are the results of these large pilot studies, in summary graphic form:
In brief, as a typical student progresses through the Academy, his parents raise his overall MAMA-p ratings. As he moves progressively from earlier to later clans, his parents’ MAMA-p ratings reflect a shift in his “approach” to the challenges and problems in his life. As those ratings (of a more mature “approach”) improve, so do their ratings of his academic and interpersonal functioning. As he passes through the “clans,” which are strongly correlated with improved MAMA-p ratings, his grade-point average (GPA) improves. As his maturity (MAMA) ratings rise, his parents rate his psychiatric symptoms as improved or gone, and note his need for less (or no) medication.
These ample pilot data support an “immaturity” hypothesis. They suggest that when students do well at MA, the recovery of morale and academic and interpersonal functioning is tied closely to these rising parental ratings of maturity. Similar curves result from staff (teacher, therapist and team-leader) ratings, using the same statements and rating scale. In the same progression, these staff ratings also suggest that as a student earns stepwise promotions through the clans, staff are responding to a student’s changed “approach” to program and classroom challenges, and this shift in attitude, in diplomacy and in planfulness, is reflected in staff ratings on the MAMA-st.