Monday, January 30, 2012

What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind: AND What Can Be Done to Fix It?

Or...Another Reason Why That "This is Your Brain on Drugs" Campaign Didn't Work So Well.
Any of you remember this one? A memorable campaign but not a very successful one.

Actually, I  always liked this one best:

But, seriously, there’s almost nothing I love more than seeing some of my favorite people-- or ideas-- meet one another.  So imagine my excitement when I saw that the article my friend Chris mentioned to me on teenage brain development and the role of experience in shaping the mind in the Wall Street Journal. was written by Alison Gopnik--whose work on infant brains has been some of my favorite stuff for years! The piece was one of the Journal’s most emailed articles today, and for good reason—check it out:
Gopnik has a great handle on how to convey essential information in a way that is accessible and meaningful, and this article is a great example of that; especially striking since teen brain-research isn’t her real area of expertise (the infant brain is). But teenage brains are a mystery—and a pressing drama—for many of us, parents or not. Basically, she gets at a couple of key realities in this piece:

a)      Teenage brains are wired to experience greater “highs”: biologically, they find certain kinds of rewards much more rewarding than adult brains do.

b)      In contemporary Western culture, teenage brains do not get the same kind of learning or apprenticeship for adulthood that they have gotten in most traditional societies. What has kept adolescent risk taking from getting out of control has historically been the development of a control system (governed largely by the prefrontal cortex of the brain) by means of practicing adult tasks—from childhood. These days, adolescents get very little “training” in this regard. A real deficit emerges. As Gopnik puts it, “The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences.”

c)       There is good news! Experience shapes the brain—and if by finding ways of giving adolescents more “apprenticeship” time and experience in key areas of adult life, there is hope that we can help them channel their tremendous intensity in ways that make them—and us—happier and healthier.  (And as other research also suggests that teens are much more afraid than adults of negative peer feedback, their might be a way of channeling both their reward and fear centers in productive directions… Nurtureshock’s chapter on “The Science of Teen Rebellion” connects to this in interesting ways.)  

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