The Adolescent Brain and Learning

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As you know, I’ve been teaching my son to drive this past month. It’s been interesting… On more than one occasion, I’ve mentioned the “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice he needs (Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell). Let me tell you: that thought has been keeping me awake at night. 10,000 hours until he’s got this??? Seriously?!? It’s going to take him forever!

And it gets worse. Recent studies have shown that “10,000 hours” won’t necessarily lead to learning, except in environments that have “super stable structures.” And let’s face it: learning to drive is not exactly what you’d call a super stable structure. (New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule)

But I’m encouraged by what I just read in The Teenage Brain: an entire chapter devoted to neural plasticity, neurons, dendrites, synapses, and gray matter… in other words–learning! What follows is great advice for parents and teachers alike.

At the risk of oversimplifying the science, let me share this excerpt from the chapter: “Teens have more gray matter than adults,” and “[Learning] is indeed more robust in teens. … the strength of [learning] was ‘way better’ in adolescents. … So what this means is that memories are easier to make and last longer when acquired in teen years compared with adult years. This is a fact that should not be ignored! This is the time to identify strengths and invest in emerging talents. It’s also the time when you can get the best results from remediation, special help, for learning and emotional issues” (Jensen, pp. 78-79).

If you are a parent or a teacher or a teenager, you’d better pause for a moment and let that sink in.

And for those of us teaching our kids to drive, hopefully we’ll get to experience this science first-hand, and we may just discover that our teens really can reach mastery in a little less than 10,000 hours.

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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The Adolescent Brain–Chemicals and the Connection to Addiction

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Before I continue on to the next chapter in my book, I wanted to share with you an interesting article that I read last month that relates well to what I’ve been reading about addiction and the teenage brain. I want to give credit to Mr. Smith for sharing this with our staff. It’s a fascinating study that was released just two months ago and I encourage you to check it out. Addicted to Your Phone? It Could Throw Off Your Brain Chemistry.

Cheers!

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Cell Phone Addiction – Your New Year’s Resolution

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As we head into the new year, I had started to think about whether or not I should continue to blog about cell phone addiction and the teenage brain. I’ve wondered if I should mix it up a bit and perhaps try another book (I have dozens waiting for me on my shelf).

But the other day as I was chatting with a friend, he was telling me about his daughter and that they had decided to give her a shot at having a cell phone. Unfortunately, within two weeks, they had noticed a change in her behavior and that she was already showing signs (obvious signs) of addiction to her phone. They quickly decided that the cell phone was not such a good idea.

Consequently, as we enter the new year, I resolve to:

  • …continue studying the teenage brain and finish my book The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.
  • …continue reading about cell phone addiction and finish Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
  • …continue to keep you updated about what I am learning and how it relates to the education of our children (to that end, I already have half of next week’s blog written).

My question to you is: what have you resolved to change this year? …especially as it relates to cell phone addiction and our teenagers? Not an easy resolution to make–but food for thought none-the-less.

Cheers!

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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.

The Adolescent Brain and Multitasking

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Next week is Thanksgiving Break. Woo-hoo! The break is much needed. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, maybe some hiking, and lots of time with family. That means I get a whole straight 9 days to be with my teenage son. Don’t get me wrong, I love him! But I thought I’d prep a bit, and so this past week, I reached for my copy of The Teenage Brain and continued reading where I left off several weeks ago. Fascinating stuff! In fact, it serves as an excellent follow-up to my last post.

This particular chapter outlined the development of the brain–specifically, how the different lobes of the brain connect with one another (turns out, it’s from back to front) and how undeveloped parts of the brain create “issues” for teenagers. Fortunately, the author does not focus strictly on the science of the brain, but also provides several real applications of this science that may help us to understand our teenagers better. Two of the author’s points particularly caught my attention.

  1. After sharing a story about a tragic accident involving an intoxicated teenager who had drowned, the author suggests that parents shouldn’t ignore these circumstances or write them off as unusual cases. Rather, parents “have to be proactive. You have to stuff their minds with real stories, real consequences, … over dinner, after soccer practice, before music lessons, and, yes, even when they complain they’ve heard it all before. You have to remind them: These things can happen anytime, and there are many different situations that can get them into trouble and that can end badly” (p. 39). This advice doesn’t just apply to drinking and swimming, but also includes the dangers of recreational drug use, vaping (yeah, yeah–I can feel the teenagers rolling their eyes at that one, but I assure you, there are some serious dangers), texting while driving, etc…
  2. After putting teenagers behind the wheel and then confronting them with a variety of distractions (sounds like a fun research project), we discover that “Multitasking is not only a myth but a dangerous one, especially when it comes to the teenage brain. … researchers have shown that the ability to successfully switch attention among multiple tasks is still developing through the teenage years” (p. 42). And the myth that this generation of teenagers is better at multitasking (because of the constant stream of stimuli that they have supposedly “learned” to live with) has been debunked by the University of Missouri. In fact, you don’t have to have the tv on, while you are listening to music, texting a friend, and trying to memorize terms for your next test. Simply listening to music while you study (or drive) can pose a challenge to the teenage brain.

I’m not sure how to feel about all of this. Not because I’ll be spending so much time with my son these next 10 days, but because he turns 15 in about 3 weeks. And we all know what that means…

Cheers!

(And best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!)

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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.

A time and a place

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I am going to be brief this week. …not because I don’t have much that I want to say, but because I do not want to belabor the point: for many things in life, there is a time and a place, but school is NOT the right time or the right place. I offer this reminder primarily for our students, but also for parents who help them to remain accountable.

For instance, there is a time and place for kissing and hugging (and even the “stuff” that kissing and hugging might lead to). But school is not the time or the place. That is not to say that it is wrong to kiss or inappropriate to hug somebody. However, we must consider the right time and the right place for such activities.

Likewise, as a family you will need to discuss whether or not there is a right time or a right place for drinking alcohol. Regardless of what you may decide or where you may land on the issue, school is NOT the right time or place.

As a family, you will need to discuss and determine your viewpoint on the use of drugs (illicit, recreational, or otherwise). But I assure you: school is NOT the time or the place.

(And here is the big one right now…) As a family, you will need to decide how you feel about the use of tobacco products–particularly when it comes to vape pens. But again: school is NOT the time or the place.

As for politics…well that’s a tough one. We’re a classical high school that encourages thought and Socratic discussion. When it comes to politics, let’s agree to disagree when needed but that we will always play nicely. 🙂

Cheers!

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Cell Phone Addiction – It’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg…

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So as I’m strolling through the lunch room today, just chatting with students, I got to celebrate a birthday with a student, I discussed driving with some sophomores (including the importance of learning how to back up!), and I was asked by one student, “When does cell phone use become an addiction?” He argued that some people are required to use phones all the time (“maybe as part of their jobs”)–and wanted to know if I would consider that to be an addiction.

It was an interesting question to me, because I found myself periodically on my phone this past week as I was out in the wilderness trying to disconnect and enjoy some downtime. I couldn’t allow myself to stop thinking about all that might be happening back at school, and I found that the desire to stay informed by way of my cell phone was at times (dare I say) irresistible.

So I answered the question by explaining that addiction is not necessarily about the use of something, but rather about our ability to control the use (or non-use) of that particular item. It’s not wrong to watch TV, but can I just watch for a half hour or do I find myself getting dragged in to watching for hours at a time? It’s not wrong to eat (in fact, it’s quite necessary), but am I unable to control the times that I eat, the amount that I eat, and/or the types of food that I consume? Likewise, cell phones can be useful tools. But do I constantly find myself being sucked into text messages, snapchats, apps, games, email, etc… and unable to step away and engage in other healthy, quality activities?

Interestingly, as I was reading Irresistible this week, the author made the same point, noting that cell phones are only part of the technology problem. Likewise, games can be problematic–40% of people who play Worlds of Warcraft develop an addiction (p. 17)–and something as insignificant as a Fitbit can easily addict us to the endorphin high that we get from reaching 10,000 steps. … and then 11,000 steps, then 12,000 steps, then… (p. 18).

Just something to think about: it may not be your Smartphone that is the problem. Is there some other form of technology that has taken hold in your life and is driving you to do things you wouldn’t normally consider doing (like waking up at 3:00am to play WoW for 4 hours before school/work, or drinking coffee at 9:00pm to get the extra kick you need to walk 4 more miles so you can hit 20,000 steps for the day)? Maybe it’s Fantasy Football or the next episode of Game of Thrones that you haven’t watched yet (or the need to check emails while you’re sitting quietly under a cedar tree in western CO waiting for a bull elk to emerge into the meadow). Is there some form of technology in your life that has become your addiction but you just haven’t realized (or admitted) it yet?

Cheers!

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

Bonus Article (long but thought-provoking): Our Minds Can Be Hijacked–The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia