While doing research for an assignment earlier this year, my wife Dena, who is working on her masters in education, shared with me some articles she had come across about how the teenage brain works.
She was perturbed that scientists had concluded in a study that teenage brains are not fully developed until they are in their 20s and suggested that teenagers have a legitimate reason for some of their outlandish behavior.
The articles seemed to be making excuses for teen’s bad behavior because that’s the way teens are wired and that’s the way they roll.
Here’s what the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) had to say about it in an pamphlet entitled “The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction”:
“In terms of sheer intellectual power, the brain of an adolescent is a match for an adult’s. The capacity of a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence. At the same time, behavioral tests, sometimes combined with functional brain imaging, suggest differences in how adolescents and adults carry out mental tasks. Adolescents and adults seem to engage different parts of the brain to different extents during tests requiring calculation and impulse control, or in reaction to emotional content.”
Naturally, the conversation I had with my wife spurred me to do my own research about the subject.
I came across this article from PBS Frontline. It did a story on “Inside the Teenage Brain.” It focused on work done by Dr. Jay Giedd, a scientist at the NIMH in Bethesda, Md., along with colleagues at McGill University in Montreal. Giedd hypothesizes that the growth in gray matter followed by the pruning of connections is a particularly important stage of brain development in which what teens do or do not do can affect them for the rest of their lives. He calls this the “use it or lose it principle,” and told Frontline, “If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”
I found that comment extremely fascinating and insightful because it explains why some adolescents never seem to grow up even after they reach their 20s, 30s and 40s.
As a bit of a disclaimer, I have never fully bought into the adolescent stage in Western culture. As a Boston Youth Arts Evaluation Project article pointed out: “Although the first use of the word “adolescence” appeared in the 15th century and came from the Latin word “adolescere,” which meant “to grow up or to grow into maturity” (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009, p.1), it wasn’t until 1904 that the first president of the American Psychological Association, G. Stanley Hall, was credited with discovering adolescence (Henig, 2010, p. 4). In his study entitled “Adolescence,” he described this new developmental phase that came about due to social changes at the turn of the 20th century. Because of the influence of Child Labor Laws and universal education, youth had newfound time in their teenage years when the responsibilities of adulthood were not forced upon them as quickly as in the past. Hall did not have a very positive view of this phase, and he believed that society needed to “burn out the vestiges of evil in their nature” (G. Stanley Hall, 2010). Therefore, adolescence was a time of overcoming one’s beast-like impulses as one was engulfed in a period of “storm and stress” (Lerner & Israeloff, 2005, p. 4). He identified three key aspects of this phase: mood disruptions, conflict with parents, and risky behavior.”
I think Hall nailed it and we’re seeing the fruits of that in America today. All of which brings me to ancient Jewish culture as described in the Bible, when you were either a child or an adult and there was no adolescent phase.
As the BYA article mentioned:
“It is important to note that in many other societies adolescence is not recognized as a phase of life. Instead, there is a distinction between childhood and adulthood, with significant rituals around this transformation. The duration of these rituals may be only a few days, whereas in the United States the period of adolescence often lasts over a decade.”
With that as a backdrop, for the next several weeks I’m going to share with you some insights from the lives of some biblical youths in a series I am calling: “When I Was Your Age: Lessons from Biblical Teenagers”
Here’s how the series will unfold:
- Joseph: The Champion Against Sexual Temptation
- Esther: The Beauty Queen of Obedience
- Daniel: The Faithful Youth in a Foreign Land
- Daniel’s Friends: The Survivors of Fire
- Mary: The Virgin with Song
- Timothy: The Student in Charge
- Jesus: The Son in Business
So, please come back each week as we delve into these young lives.
For further reading about the teenage brain and a history of adolescence:
Rubin E. Grant
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