Moody, impulsive, untidy, sleepy, rude, unthinking, risk-taking. Does this describe your adolescent son or daughter? If so, then read this book, because you can blame it all on the teenage brain if you want. Nicola Morgan, a special needs teacher with an interest in neuroscience and a racy style honed on teenage novel-writing, gives a pretty fine and readable account of what is known about the changes in the adolescent brain and how they might explain adolescent behaviour.
Blaming the brain, however, is itself a risky business; psychopaths, for instance, tend on average to have slightly abnormal brains but we still throw them in jail for their crimes. There are no known brain changes, damage or disorders that guarantee bad behaviour, and the very interesting changes in the adolescent brain outlined in this book cannot by themselves excuse obnoxious behaviour by an adolescent: all teenagers have these changes, but a minority are obnoxious – mostly because they get away with it.
But we have to make some provision for this period of dizzying changes in brain and hormones: the pruning back of the of juvenile brain connections and consequent thickening, insulation and strengthening of key connections between brain cells ramps up in adolescence and is not fully complete until the early twenties. Armies would not be able to go to war without the half-wired brains of 18 year olds. The frontal lobes of the brain – the seat of judgement, forethought, emotional regulation, temperance, mental organisation and planning – are hardest hit by this teenage brain remodelling – which is why car insurance companies charge monopoly money to anyone under 25. The teenage brain is also ultra-sensitive to drugs during this long changeover period: the younger you start drinking alcohol, for instance, the more likely you will become a heavy drinker later in life. And the earlier you smoke cannabis, the greater your risk of developing schizophrenia.
So read this book to understand your sulky teenager – there is plenty of simply-written but fairly accurate science, good writing and lots of excellent advice. But more importantly, get him or her to read it, because there are lots of great tests among the deftly offered teenage- speak advice.