The Teenage Brain

The Teenage Brain April 24, 2015

Parents have long been frustrated with their teenager’s “what was he thinking” moments.  Why do bright, thoughtful adolescents so often do things that are foolish and reckless?  We now know the reason:  their brains are not finished growing.  Specifically, the pleasure center is not completely hooked up to the judgement center.

The good news is that, contrary to what people used to believe, the teenage brain can change, which means that there really are “late bloomers.”

Neurologist Frances Jensen, with journalist Amy Ellis Nutt, as written a book on the subject The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.  Read from a review after the jump.

From Lyndsey Layton, Why are teens oblivious to the pile of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor? – The Washington Post:

Teenagers always have been a mystery puzzling their parents: What was he thinking when he drove down a one-way street the wrong way just for kicks? Why is she oblivious to the heap of clothes piled on the bedroom floor for two weeks?

Frances Jensen, a neuroscientist and single mother of two boys, pondered these questions and many more, then delved into the emerging science of the adolescent brain. She came out with provocative new insights for parents, educators, public policymakers and teens themselves. . . .

She detailed her discoveries in “The Teenage Brain,” co-written with Amy Ellis Nutt, a reporter at the Newark Star Ledger who later joined The Washington Post as a health and science reporter. Published earlier this year, the book is a bestseller.

Brain science developed during the past dozen years obliterates some long-held assumptions about teenagers, including the belief that their erratic, often risky and rebellious behavior is driven by hormones.

Although hormones do play some role, Jensen said, much of teen behavior can be traced to the fact that their brains are not fully grown. Contrary to previous thought, brains are not fully developed by kindergarten; growth continues past adolescence into the mid-20s, Jensen said.

In teens, that means the prefrontal cortex — which makes judgments, calculates risks and controls impulses — is not yet fully connected to the region of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward. Jensen puts it this way: “It’s like a Ferrari without brakes.”

That’s a problem because the teen brain also is more susceptible to addiction than the adult brain, said Jensen, who chairs the neurology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. . . .

Although teens can do irreversible damage to their brains, they also can make amazing improvements.

Once thought to be set in childhood, IQ is fluid during the teenage years, Jensen said. Studies show that during adolescence, IQ will increase in a third of teenagers, decrease in a third and remain stable in another third, she said. . . .

It also means there is hope for the late bloomer.

“If you’re not a scholar by 14, a lot of educational systems track you, and if you’re not at the top, you go into vocational training,” she said. “But if you’re getting C’s and D’s, that may not be your destiny — you’re just in the wrong place. The U.S. educational system is quite lenient in this regard. Late bloomers exist, and you can see it, like people who transfer from a community college to a four-year university.”

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