Thursday, November 24, 2011

Teen Brain ≠ Adult Brain

We used to think that teens were pretty much the same as adults.   Well...aside from the fact that they're impulsive, have SO much energy for certain things, and tend to make some whoppers when it comes to mistakes.  We believed that adolescents made these big time mistakes because they lacked the experience or knowledge necessary to make good decisions in particular situations.

There were disturbing clues that this thinking on our part was flawed.  Philosophers and poets as far back as people have been philosophizing have painted teens as strange and fearsome creatures.  Decisions are often made that don't appear to be based on a careful consideration of the consequences (even when the teen can tell you what those consequences were).  This was chalked up to rebellion, or sowing one's oats, or peer pressure, but not to a different brain.

With the development of sophisticated brain imaging technology, we now know that their brains ARE different.  Not smaller, as we might expect if their brains weren't done developing, but structurally different.  Especially right in the front.  Right where the kind of long-term, life-changing, maybe I shouldn't do this kind of thinking happens.

What can be exquisitely frustrating if you are trying to parent, mentor, or teach one of these amazing, strange-brained creatures is that they CAN reason things out.  They just DON'T when they are in stimulating situations.  You can have a perfectly rational discussion with a teen about why doing (insert bad idea here) is a bad idea...they can give pros and cons and appear to understand consequences.  But they may still engage in (the bad idea) right after this discussion.

As a recent article in National Geographic Magazine suggests, these strange and different brains may give these almost-adult humans a distinct advantage in some kinds of situations.  The point of our essay here is not to suggest that teens are inferior.  It is to remind us all that they are different.  We hope that we all can learn to marvel and appreciate the wondrous creatures that 9-23 year olds can be.  BUT, we also hope that the adults in our community appreciate that even older adolescents still need direct supervision, guidance, and appropriate consequences in order to navigate these years safely.

So, all hail to the thrill-seeking, higher tolerance for risk if there is a chance of reward, future-focused, relationship building, flexible brains of our teens.  And blessed be those who help guide them as they develop into the future adults and citizens they will become.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I read the National Geographic Article and really loved it. I'm so fascinated by this topic-it has really helped my not only in my job, but with my teen son. Good work!