Alva Review-Courier -

Guiding teens into successful young adulthood


September 25, 2019

Three years ago, I read a review of a book titled “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.” One of the authors, Frances E. Jensen, MD, was the mother of two boys. When they entered their teen years, her boys and their friends seemed to change. She started gathering research data and learned a wealth of information.

Dr. Jensen gathered all this information about adolescent brain function, wiring and capacity and wrote a book. She explains the science as it applies to everyday learning and multitasking, stress and memory, sleep, addition and decision-making.

At the time, my daughter and her husband had five teenagers in the house. That’s right, five! So I ordered the book to find out more about teens. One thing I learned is that around the age of 12 or 13, the brain begins to undergo a growth spurt. Some parts of the brain develop more quickly than others. The brain can’t be considered fully mature until about age 25.

In her professional work, Dr. Jensen was studying the brains of babies and running a research lab devoted to epilepsy and brain development. But when her oldest son seemed to change into an unfamiliar person (red streaks in his hair?), she realized she needed more information on teens.

I found the book to be well-written and easy to understand. Here are some of the more recent findings Dr. Jensen reports:

• Teens are better learners than adults because their brain cells more readily “build” memories. But this heightened adaptability can be hijacked by addiction, and the adolescent brain can become addicted more strongly and for a longer duration than the adult brain.

• Studies show that girls’ brains are a full two years more mature than boys’ brains in the mid-teens, possibly explaining differences seen in the classroom and in social behavior.

• Adolescents may not be as resilient to the effects of drugs as we thought. Recent experimental and human studies show that the occasional use of marijuana, for instance, can cause lingering memory problems even days after smoking, and that long-term use of pot impacts later adulthood IQ.

• Multi-tasking causes divided attention, and it has been shown to reduce learning ability in the teenage brain. Multi-taking also has some addictive qualities, which may result in habitual short attention in teenagers.

• Emotionally stressful situations may impact the adolescent more than it would affect the adult; stress can have permanent effects on mental health and can lead to higher risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression.

The author explains that the most important part of the human brain – the place where actions are weighed, situations judged, and decisions made – is right behind the forehead, in the frontal lobes. This is the last part of the brain to develop, and that is why parents need to be their teens’ frontal lobes until their brains are fully wired and hooked up and ready to go on their own.

She also learned as a parent of teenagers that while you can try to set your own tone in your household, you are really sharing parenting with all the parents of your kids’ friends. These may be adults you might not have chosen to be role models for your kids.

It’s an interesting book, and one you might find helpful in navigating your child’s teen years.


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