Groundbreaking developments in adolescent brain research underpin this straightforward guide to understanding—and dealing with—teen behavior. Adolescence has long been characterized as the “storm and stress” years, and with recent developments in digital communication, it seems today’s teens are in for a more complicated journey than ever before. Even the most sympathetic, “in-touch” parents might throw their hands up in frustration at their ...
Groundbreaking developments in adolescent brain research underpin this straightforward guide to understanding—and dealing with—teen behavior.
Adolescence has long been characterized as the “storm and stress” years, and with recent developments in digital communication, it seems today’s teens are in for a more complicated journey than ever before. Even the most sympathetic, “in-touch” parents might throw their hands up in frustration at their teen’s unpredictable and risky behavior and ask: what are they thinking?!
It turns out that teens’ thrill-seeking activities and quests for independence aren’t just the result of raging hormones, but rather typical effects of the unique structure and development of the adolescent brain. In easily navigable chapters full of practical anecdotes and examples, acclaimed scientists Aaron White and Scott Swartzwelder draw from the most recent studies on the teen brain to illuminate the complexities of issues such as school, driving, social networking, video games, and mental health in kids whose crucial brain connections are just coming online.
Health scientist administrator White and Swartzwelder (Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience/Duke Univ.; co-author, Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy, 1998) propose that behavioral changes in teenagers are not only hormonal, but due to significant changes in brain wiring and that risk-taking acts during the teen years are essential for achieving independence as well as mastering practical, social and emotional adult skills. The authors consider common problems and some of their effects, organized by broad subjects (Teens and Their Brains, Mental Health, Food, Sleep, Driving, The Digital World, Sex and Sexuality, etc.) and further subdivided by issues such as eating disorders, the effects of caffeine and sugar, stress, pornography and others. The book is not intended as a comprehensive guide; some topics, such as social media and texting, presume access and a certain degree of affluence. In addition, the effects of particular cultures/religions as tempering moral agents that influence behavior do not come into play, resulting in a tendency for teens to emerge as subjects at the mercy of biology, though the authors are careful to note that multiple experiences and outcomes are possible. When explicating brain anatomy, the authors shine, presenting information with readable examples. When offering opinions or suggestions, however, the results are occasionally tepid or expected--e.g., considering violence and the harm that results from becoming desensitized toward it, the authors conclude with the easy summation: "It's healthy to be appalled by violence. If playing violent video games makes kids less appalled by violence, this would be a bad thing for society as a whole." On bullying: "Bullies and those they bully also experience other problems, not only in the present, but in the future as well." Valuable as encouragement for caregivers to empathize with the turbulent years, but remains uneven and not far-reaching enough as an amalgam of science and parenting advice.
Aaron M. White holds a PhD in biological psychology and speaks internationally about adolescent brain development. Before joining the National Institutes of Health, he served as an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.
Scott Swartzwelder, PhD is a professor of psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine.