The Adolescent Brain

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Have you ever observed one of your child’s behaviors and asked, “What was s/he thinking???” Maybe I’m asking the wrong question… How many times a day do you ask yourself that? As the parent of a 14-year-old young man (and the principal of 340 adolescents), I have to admit that I can’t count high enough (and I have a degree in mathematics!).

In addition to Irresistible–The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked, I recently started reading a second book: The Teenage Brain–A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. Interesting stuff so far…

I’ve always believed (as I’m sure most of us have) that “Teens are impulsive and emotional because of surging hormones; teens are rebellious and oppositional because they want to be difficult and different; and if teenagers occasionally drink too much alcohol without their parent’s consent, well, their brains are resilient, so they’ll certainly rebound without suffering any permanent effects” (Jensen, 2016, p. 4). Actually, I never really bought the one about drinking, but the other two sound about right, don’t they?

And that is the very first lesson of the text: it’s not true. Their IQ is not set, their talents and abilities are far from written in stone, their wiring is not the same as an adult, and their brains are still quite vulnerable. And yet, there are also some unique advantages to having an adolescent brain. (I can’t imagine what those might be…)

Throughout the course of the year, as we explore the pages of Irresistible together, I will also periodically report on my progress as I read The Teenage Brain. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the help I can get.

Cheers!

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Jensen, F. E., & Nutt, A. E. (2016). The teenage brain: a neuroscientists survival guide to raising adolescents and young adults. New York: London.

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Cell Phone Addiction

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Last week I happened to be watching the news and they reported that a recent study discovered teenagers’ cell phones have 10 times the bacteria of a toilet seat! Think about that next time you put a cell phone to your face.

As disgusting as that is, I think we may want to consider a more disturbing fact regarding our teens’ cell phone usage: teens are cell phone addicts.

I recently began reading Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked, by Adam Alter. I just started–I haven’t even gotten to the parts about the biology of addiction, the ingredients of addiction, or the future of behavioral addiction, and I’m already concerned.

The front cover has an endorsement from Malcolm Gladwell that reads, “As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times” (Alter, p. 0).

The first few pages begin to explore the topic, noting that tech leaders like Steve Jobs enforce strict technology requirements in their own homes, “following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply” (p. 2). Similarly, video game designers refuse to play the games they develop and app developers won’t use the apps they’ve designed.

The first few pages of the text make two things clear:

  1. Our society narrowly defines addiction, limiting the discussion to elicit drug use or alcoholism. Technology can be just as dangerous.
  2. The designers of technology know how susceptible we are to technology addiction, and they work hard to addict us and keep us that way.

Throughout the school year, I am going to revisit the pages of this text and provide updates as I make my way through the chapters. There is much for us to learn as parents and educators.

Before I sign off, I’d like to draw your attention to this interesting research statistic:

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Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

So if your student comes home and tells you that I’ve been taking cell phones and cracking down lately, you know why. I’m simply protecting their working memory and ensuring they are as focused and engaged as possible. It’s just something to think about next time they go to their bedroom to do homework and take their phone with them…

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.