A parent recently asked are teens “crazy”… because she’d seen a book titled “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy”, which describes recent brain imaging studies.
In full disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet, but have perused it. The basic message is solid – but I caution folks to realize the main point is a bit overstated.
I’ve reviewed many brain imaging studies. They do suggest teen brains on average look different from adult brains (not in shape or size, but in the way they function). That only tells us that teens are in developmental flux, and that more development is on the way. Their development may continue into very early twenties in fact. But, that doesn’t mean teens are “nuts” (as one book reviewer joked). It doesn’t mean that teens are unable to make good, thoughtful decisions, or be responsible.
These brain imaging studies should never be used as an excuse for negative behavior in any teen, especially if the bulk of teenagers otherwise handle similar situations well. In America, we have a tendency to blame biology for our problems. And we have more than our share of problems with many teens growing up – not because their brains are wired funny – but because we adults have prolonged their childhood and adolescence. The fact is, kids here grow up very, very late. Anecdotally, teens act less mature in America than the average teen I’ve come across in other countries.
We hover. We worry. We often do too much for children who are capable. We give them to much attention and resources. We also stress and pressure them to be early top performers in everything they do. This combination between pushing them to achieve early at all cost coupled with doing too much for them to make them look mature and look smarter could make any teen feel and act “nuts!!”
How to understand your teen’s brain development? In short, teens on average will be more emotional. Many will be more impulsive. They will fight with you and their friends more (they call this having “drama”). They will need your close attention and help and certainly your love for years to come – but not all teens are the same. In my experience, many can mature earlier when their parents push them to be responsible and self-sufficient. Others need a longer road and more parenting/mentorship simply because they are late bloomers.
Let’s all keep an eye on our behavior as parents and educators. Early in childhood, don’t push them to achieve too much and don’t do too much for them if they are more than capable. Let them have ownership of their actions and choices. Don’t interfere with their sense of responsibility by fixing everything. Always give them opportunities to grow up in the real world.
Finally, brain-wise, don’t worry about what’s going on beneath the surface. The biology of the brain knows what its doing…. it will take care of itself.