[Note: at a certain family member’s request, I am asked to no longer “write about our family on the blog.” Being sensitive to such requests, I will endeavour to write about family matters without naming names, specific events etc. I will also change the category from “Banshee Life” to “Imaginary, Fictional Banshee Life.” Yeah, right.]
My first blog post here was a piece about mother sea turtle envy. It just dawned on me in the shower why mama sea turtles lay their eggs and then lumber off as quickly as they can: They want to avoid watching their adorable little hatchlings go through their teenage phase.
I still think those sea turtles have it all figured out.
Although the human survival rate is much greater than that of baby sea turtles, parents of teenagers must wonder when they’re right in the thick of it. That is to say, it is not always fun to be the parent of one or more of them (not that I can comment personally, see note above).
National Geographic magazine’s October issue contains an article entitled, “The New Science of the Teenage Brain” – a must-read for parents of teens although it won’t ultimately make the road any less bumpy.
The long and the short of it is that teenage brains are only half baked which explains in large part why they do things that we wise adults consider half baked.
The article quotes Aristotle, who summed up the teen condition best when he said, “the young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.” Yep. The heat is the neurological oven cooking in all the necessary ingredients for a happy, healthy, stable (eventually) person. Now, with sophisticated brain scanning technology, scientists can monitor a teenage brain’s development and its patterns of activity giving a clearer but no less scary peek at “what the f**k was he/she thinking and why.
It appears all of the teenaged craziness is absolutely necessary for healthy development of the brain – without this period of drama, angst, and eye-rolling, humans would actually become dumber.
The article details how brains go through a total upheaval and re-org between the ages of 12 and 25. The developmental equivalent of say, the formation of the Rocky Mountains. The problem with all of this re-organization and re-wiring is that it takes a loooooong time and within bodies that look adult-sized. This explains why someone’s 15 year old son who is 6’2” and has to shave still does incredibly “stupid” things. The brain scan studies have led to some to question as to whether teenagers are not in a state similar to mental retardation.
OMG. Not comforting news, I know. These half baked people get driver’s licenses…
However fun to repeat, that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story. According to scientists, a more accurate explanation is that the teenage brain is only attempting to perfect its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The teenage desire to try new things (whether they’re dangerous or not), “leads directly to useful experience.” Some parents may have a hard time figuring how a tongue piercing will lead to useful experience…
According to studies, the most dangerous risks are taken by 14-17 year olds; they know damn well it’s dangerous but they process things differently. Hence, if they survive the cliff jump, the the total awesomeness of surviving it is worth far more to them than the possible risk of death. An adult brain might ponder the usefulness of this experience and choose a more sedate activity. If teenagers always chose the “safe” thing to do, it might lead to less gray haired parents but also the downfall of the species.
On friends: teenagers value their friends more than they value their families at this stage – a teenage girl’s BFF knows way more about her life than her mom. Quite a few parents don’t find out exactly what their teenagers were up to until those kids are about 30 years old. “Oh, Mom if you only knew some of the shitt I did!”
Scientists say looking outside the confines of family for new experiences is good. At the most basic level, it introduces them to new stuff and people. New is good (in an ideal situation). It’s basic species survival – in prehistoric times, this thirst for new experiences might lead to meeting cave neighbours who could help defend against pesky sabre-tooth tigers. In the complicated neural pathways of the brain, social acceptance still equals survival; social rejection equals ceasing to exist. This is not drama queen stuff. If something goes awry with a social relationship and a teenager wails, “You just don’t understand! My life is OVER!!” their still-developing brain thinks it might be true.
Does all of this information make raising a teen any easier? Maybe, maybe not. If parents quoted Aristotle, just imagine the looks they’d get. The article urges parents to “guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence…” The steady hand part means parents should not self-medicate with that tempting cocktail of vodka and Valium, I suppose.
So when your under-cooked teen comes home gushing about the cliff jump, calmly retire to a private place and then faint. When one of them barrels through the door,throwes themselves on the floor and declares the world is ending, breathe deep. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t move too suddenly. Never show fear or weakness (same as dealing with wild animals). Cross your fingers, keep a rabbit’s foot, whatever it takes. Necessary or not, the teenage years will still be a bumpy ride.
Sources: National Geographic, October 2011 “Beautiful Brains,” by David Dobbs
Personal experience of Wee Banshee (can’t talk about that)