The Adolescent Brain and Decision Making

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This week I began reading Chapter 3 (Under the Microscope) of our text The Teenage Brain. I found it to be particularly fascinating as this chapter discusses neurons, cells, synapses, and chemicals. (I’ve find the chemicals of the brain to be especially applicable to learning. But more on that next week…) Without diving too deep into the science, let’s take a quick look a relevant application: “It takes longer for adolescents to figure out when not to do something” (Jensen, p. 55).

First, I think we want to consider some of the possible implications in school and education. If adolescents are a little more slow on the uptake when it comes to identifying the wrong thing to do, it means that the adults in their lives (parents, teachers, coaches, admin, …) need to be present to assist them in making the right decisions. In other words, our students are going to struggle convincing themselves to not procrastinate, to not use their phones while studying, to not text during math class, or to not sign out and wander the halls during English class. They are also going to struggle determining when to speak up or when not to say something–perhaps about a friend with suicidal thoughts or a peer who is vaping in the bathroom between classes. (And just in case you’re wondering, the right thing to do is speak up!) Our students still need our help and encouragement to make right decisions. They especially need to know that they are safe speaking to us and sharing with us the cognitive dissonance they may be experiencing.

Second, I think (and the science backs me up on this) as families we need to be chatting regularly with our adolescents about how best we “figure out when not to do something.” This conversation extends well beyond cell phones and studying to discussions of drugs, drinking, driving, sex, bullying, fighting, dating, media, relationships, etc… And as we adults have learned ourselves from experience, there are some things in life such that if we take too long to figure out not to do something, the consequences could be much more serious than just an F.

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.