"The CCC gives kids the childhood they deserve, not just so they can survive but so they can thrive." Darell Hammond
CCC thanks Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of Kaboom!, for his inspirational presentations at the Garde Arts Center and Connecticut College in New London, CT, October 20 - 21, 2014
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults
By Frances E. Jensen, M.D., and Amy Ellis Nutt (2015) Dewey Decimal 612.82 JEN
Book Review by Kathleen O'Beirne
From the back cover: "Drawing on her research, knowledge, and clinical experience, internationally respected neurologist—and mother of two boys—Frances E. Jensen, MD, offers a revolutionary look at the adolescent brain, providing remarkable insights that translate into practical advice both for parents and teenagers."
“Prominent neurologist Jensen teams up with Pulitzer Prize winner Nutt to offer this ‘well-written, accessible work (Publishers Weekly) about recent research into the adolescent brain.” (Smith College Quarterly Summer 2015). Also recommended by American Psychological Association and The New Yorker Magazine (August 2015).
Many teens are puzzled by the changes taking place not only in their body and emotions, but also in their mind. Things that they could remember easily a year ago now do not get readily stored in their working memory. They find it hard to think logically because ideas are flooding in with no apparent order. They find themselves attracted to risky choices. They also find psychology and neuroscience fascinating – whether they are headed into medicine, forensic science, or just plain want to understand others around them. They notice that cognitive development occurs earlier for girls (with gray matter density peaking in girls at age 11) and later for boys (around age 14), and that their white matter (which enables the communication links between their neurons and synapses) waxes and wanes throughout adolescence and early adulthood.
Dr. Jensen is the mother of two boys (now out of college). She began her intense interest in the teenage brain when there were two teenage brains in her household and she was a single parent. Her examples are filled with personal insights, sensitivity to the challenges for the kids themselves and the adults around them, and a good deal of humor. She writes that “teenagers’ brains are both more powerful and more vulnerable than at virtually any other time in their lives.”
Also, long-term “memories are easier to make and last longer when acquired in teen years compared with adult years.” Therefore, it is the best time to identify strengths and invest in emerging talents. “It’s also the time when you get the best results from remediation, special help, for learning and emotional issues.”
She is very specific about strategies that teens can use to make the best use of their “golden age for their brain.” Sleep is high on her list, with 9 ¼ hours being optimum. Melatonin is released 2 hours later in adolescents vs. adults and remains in their system longer – hence the difficulty in being alert for early classes. Therefore, she worked with her sons’ school to schedule important tests later in the morning rather than first period. She cites the strategy of learning/reviewing material right before sleep in order to produce better accuracy – even the technique of going over finger movements for piano pieces just prior to bedtime. She suggests restful activities in the hour before bedtime – especially activities such as a short walk around the yard or star gazing vs. electronic usage to help wind down for sleep.
She tackles such areas as smoking, alcohol and drug use, saying that “teenagers get addicted to every substance faster than adults, and once addicted have much greater difficulty ridding themselves of the habit…throughout the rest of their lives.” She notes that the more teens smoke, the less activity there is in their pre-frontal cortex – which is the cause of poor decision-making.
“Nicotine dependency is high among people with mood disorders – it may actually precipitate these mood disorders, especially depression because nicotine causes a serotonin deficiency (which leads to depression).” This even includes secondhand smoke!
Alcohol impedes the development of new neurons in the hippocampus. Marijuana’s impact on teen brains includes “smaller whole brain volume, reduced gray matter, and damaged white matter.”
“Stress impacts the hippocampus which is critical to both memory and learning.” Adults can snap back from emotional stress in about 10 days, but teens take more like three weeks. Post-traumatic stress disorder experienced as a teen may impact the individual for a lifetime. (She makes special note of the impact of war-related PTSD on young veterans….)
Her chapter on digital usage notes that there can be some benefits to “modest gaming such as an increase in working memory and visuospatial skills. “ However, obsessive gaming can lead to a 20% shrinkage in the brain, especially in white matter connectivity. She notes that more symptoms and more severe symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder/ADHD appear in adolescents playing for just an hour or more a day.
These are just samples of the remarkable insights provided by Dr. Jensen. She explores gender differences in brain structure and rate of development, another fascinating topic for educators, parents, and students themselves.
Kathleen O’Beirne for the Community Coalition for Children, August 2015
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