Teen Brains ~ A Work in Progress

For those who have teenage children or who remember those days when you and  your children were in the throes of those teen years – reading today’s Globe story “Miracle grow. The teen brain is a marvel of smarts. It’s just not all filled in (yet)” by Elizabeth Cooney is a must. Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston and a specialist in age-specific brain injury – speaks regularly to parents and then to their teens about drinking, drugs and the effects on their lives not as a lecture but as she would to a scientific audience – appealing to their intellect with slides and data. As we follow the news and from our own experience we see over and over that “smart kids do stupid things” – taking chances, risky driving habits,  making poor choices with drugs, alcohol and other behavior. She noted to Cooney:

“We all know what the frontal lobe does,’’ said Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston. “It’s insight, judgment, inhibition, self-awareness, cause and effect, acknowledgment of cause and effect. And big surprise: It’s not done in your teen years. Hence [teens’] impulsiveness, their unpredictable behavior, their lack of ability to acknowledge and see cause and effect, despite the fact they are getting 800s on their SATs and can be cognitively highly functional and memorize at a much more impressive rate than we as adults do later.’’

Dr. Jensen helps parents and teens understand as she did in a recent talk at Lexington High School  where she  had this  message for students, and their teachers, and parents.

“You have this amazingly valuable organ up there. You only get one,’’ she said. “Take good care of it.’’

Read the article for Dr. Jensen’s views and those of others in the field of education and developmental psychology and take a look at these suggestions:

What’s a parent to do?

■ Be tolerant. Your teenage children are not trying to be jerks.

■ Cut down on the stress in their lives. It’s not an easy stage of life for them, either.

■ Make sure they’re not sleep-deprived. That amps up stress hormones.

■ Talk to your children.

Teen schemes

■ Count to 10 before you rush into anything.

■ Ask a friend for advice before you make a decision.

■ Keep in mind that drugs and alcohol can cause your developing brain to take an extra-hard hit.

■ Talk to your parents.

SOURCE: Dr. Frances Jensen

My days of parenting teenage boys are behind me – in retrospect I appreciate her views and expertise. Now what about my four granddaughters? The article’s emphasis  is on teenage boys – are girls different?