“Try not to be winning the battles, when you should be winning the war”
CBC radio had a clip featuring Frances Jensen, the author of The Teenage Brain, a few weeks ago. It was interesting listening to her speak of challenges with her own teenage boys and how it sparked her interest as a neuroscientist to investigate the teenage brain. She describes examples of teenage angst, challenges and behaviours while explaining the anatomy, brain development and chemicals behind some of the choices that teens make.
I chuckled reading the following quote which starts of her book:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.” (Mark Twain)
Jensen reinforces that teens are not “an alien species but just a misunderstood one” and suggests that her book is a survival guide for the teenage brain. While I learned a lot from her book, I am not sure that she went into enough detail on the survival guide part. The specific clinical education about the brain and reasons for behaviours were described in great detail but additional tips and advice could have been more prevalent in her book.
Jensen shares that teens have enormous capacity for learning but also struggle with dealing with stress. While our frontal lobes assist with “generating insight, judgement, abstraction and planning” this is the last part of the brain to mature leading to “mood swings, irratibility, explosiveness and an inability to focus, follow throught and to connect with adults.” She includes chapters on stress, alcohol, pot, gender issues that all provide insight into the teenage brain and the risks that teens take.
The chapter on sleep was interesting, sharing that teens need more sleep than parents and their younger siblings. This certainly does not happen in our house and is something to consider. The author shares the importance of sleep for memory, learning and the management of stress along with the fact that teens really need 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night.
Key advice provided:
- Keeping involved and keeping the communication open.
- Counting to 10.
- Being a good role model.
- Give them one thing at a time (don’t overwhelm them with instructions).
- Get a good night’s sleep (especially helpful after studying for an exam).
- Put screens away an hour before bedtime.
- Make lists.
- Emphasize the positive things in your teens life.
- Encourage them to try new things.
I would recommend this book to anyone with teens or who will have them soon. I am glad to have a clinical background as some of the discussion about the brain anatomy, chemicals and synapses is quite technical but it does provide a good understanding of what is happening in the teenage brain. The examples are resonant and the author has not only studied neurology but managed to raise two boys as a single mom.
“Adolescents believe they are adults, and though we know better, the more you treat them that way, the greater chance that they will act that way too”.