Do you know someone with a teenager who is leaving a trail of chaos and haggard loved ones in their wake?
Send them a link to this article. It may not solve their problems, but it might give them some reassurances to mutter in the long dark nights and it will definitely give them some light at the end of the tunnel!
Today’s EWC article refers you to an article from The New Yorker Magazine (The Terrible Teens: What’s wrong with them? by Elizabeth Kolbert). It’s both fascinating and a bit of fun. If you can remember your teenage years, or you know a teen who is a particular rascal, then you will nod and smile a lot through this one.
Thank you to Larry Bensky for linking us all to these wonderful insights!
Here is an excerpt about midway through the piece to give you a taste of the science mixed with story telling:
“Every adult has gone through adolescence, and studies have shown that if you ask people to look back on their lives they will disproportionately recall experiences they had between the ages of ten and twenty-five. (This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence bump.”) And yet, to adults, the adolescent mind is a mystery—a Brigadoon-like place that’s at once vivid and inaccessible. Why would anyone volunteer to down fifteen beers in a row? Under what circumstances could Edward Fortyhands, an activity that involves having two forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor affixed to your hands with duct tape, be construed as enjoyable? And what goes for drinking games also goes for hooking up with strangers, jumping from high places into shallow pools, and steering a car with your knees. At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there’s something wrong with their teen-agers’ brains. Which, according to recent books on adolescence, there is.
Frances Jensen is a mother, an author, and a neurologist. In “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” (HarperCollins), written with Amy Ellis Nutt, she offers a parenting guide laced with the latest MRI studies. By her account, adolescents suffer from the cerebral equivalent of defective spark plugs.
“When we think of ourselves as civilized, intelligent adults, we really have the frontal and prefrontal parts of the cortex to thank,” she writes. But “teens are not quite firing on all cylinders when it comes to the frontal lobes.” Thus, “we shouldn’t be surprised by the daily stories we hear and read about tragic mistakes.”
“The Teenage Brain” retails a number of such stories, including several involving Jensen’s sons, Andrew and Will. One is about Will’s totalling of the family’s Dodge. (He miscalculates the time he has to make a left turn.) Another features Andrew, his girlfriend, and another girl, who has passed out in the back of their car. The two conscious adolescents keep hoping the third one will wake up. Jensen insists that they take the girl to a nearby hospital. There her stomach gets pumped; it turns out that she has downed seventeen Jell-O shots—perhaps more, she can’t really remember. Then, there’s the story of Dan, “an all-around great kid,” who, one summer night, gets drunk and, together with a bunch of friends, scales the fence at the local tennis club to take a 3 A.M. swim. The friends get out, get dressed, and rescale the fence, only to discover that Dan is no longer with them. When they return to the pool, they find him lying face down in it. (Readers will be reassured to learn that Will and Andrew, at least, made it through high school in one piece and went on to graduate from Harvard and Wesleyan, respectively.)
The frontal lobes are the seat of what’s sometimes called the brain’s executive function. They’re responsible for planning, for self-awareness, and for judgment. Optimally, they act as a check on impulses originating in other parts of the brain. But in the teen years, Jensen points out, the brain is still busy building links between its different regions. This process involves adding myelin around the axons, which conduct electrical impulses. (Myelin insulates the axons, allowing impulses to travel faster.) It turns out that the links are built starting in the back of the brain, and the frontal lobes are one of the last regions to get connected. They are not fully myelinated until people are in their twenties, or even thirties.
This is where parents step in. “You need to be your teens’ frontal lobes until their brains are fully wired,” Jensen writes. By this she seems to mean near-constant hectoring. Whenever she hears a story like the one about Dan, she rushes to tell Will and Andrew, and, whenever Will and Andrew screw up, she uses it as an opportunity to remind them that they, too, could wind up floating face down in a pool. (After the unconscious girl has been dropped off at the hospital, Jensen relates, she sits Andrew and his girlfriend down at the kitchen table and lectures them about “blood alcohol levels and the effects on coordination and consciousness.”) As a matter of principle, Jensen has attached a lock to the…” 1
…to continue that thought and many more insights, please slip on over to the New Yorker article by clicking here.
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~ Dr. Lynda
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- Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Why Teen-Agers Are the Worst.” The New Yorker. N.p., 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Sept. 2015. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-terrible-teens>. ↩