The Teenage Brain by Frances E. Jensen

The Teenage Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, M.D. with Amy Ellis Nutt

c.2014, Harper
$27.99 / $32.99 Canada
384 pages

 

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

A stranger has moved into your house.

You’re not sure what to do about it. He raids your fridge, takes command of your television, hogs the bathroom, and leaves a mess everywhere. Sometimes, she cries for no apparent reason and other times, she erects a wall of silence.

Thing is, you knew this stranger once… then (s)he became a teenager. But read “The Teenage Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, M.D. with Amy Ellis Nutt, and you’ll welcome this familiar newcomer.

“What were you thinking?”

If you’re the parent of a teen, those four words probably exit your lips at least once a day. Teenagers are widely known for their impulsivity, mood swings, and irrationality – but why is that so?

Blame it on what’s between their ears, says Dr. Frances Jensen.

Teenagers surely look like adults. Their physical bodies can do everything adult bodies can do, but their brains are in a particular state of flux with vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses that are unique to this period of life. Teens are a “work in progress,” and what happens in their lives during this time really does matter.

Take, for instance, the fabled teen hormone issue. The truth is that teen hormone levels aren’t much different than that of their slightly older counterparts; the contrast is in how teen brains react to those hormones. Furthermore, connections aren’t finished establishing in teenage noggins, so certain brain-parts may have trouble communicating and thought processes could be differently-based – which explains reckless behavior, emotionality, and difficulty with concentration. Stress (and what high schooler isn’t stressed?) only exacerbates the situation.

The good news is that teenage brains are suited for learning, if the right amount of sleep at the right time is included in the plan. Parents should be vigilant about addictive substances (including electronics), since they have a unique effect on teen brains. Also, despite that gender equality is a hot topic, boys and girls really do differ in their domes.

To help smooth this child-to-adult transition, be proactive in your teen’s life. Don’t be afraid to embarrass him with your vigilance. Be tolerant of her mistakes and choose your battles wisely. Remember: this, too, shall pass.

Does this largely sound like common sense parenting?

Yes, I thought so, too, but “The Teenage Brain” does hold some surprises.

Authors Frances E. Jensen, M.D. and Amy Ellis Nutt offer the usual information that veteran parents probably already know or sense, but I was glad to see that they also touch upon subjects that many parenting books miss. Chapters on various kinds of substance abuse, eating disorders, mental health, electronic media, and sports concussions mix nicely with gentle advice that always bears repeating; add in results from scientific research and you’ve got a readable guide that you’ll appreciate if you’ve got a twelve-to-twenty-four-year-old around.

Astute readers may have a number of questions left unanswered but most, I think, will find this book to be very helpful. For every parent, guardian, or teacher, “The Teenage Brain” proves that your adolescent isn’t so strange after all.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.