Review copy provided by Harper Collins Publishers NZ via Booksellers NZ.
The teenage brain? What sort of word trickery is that? Well, all logic tells you there is a brain of course, nestling inside the head of that child of yours, but it is not a brain, Jim, as we know it. And that is the totally bizarre thing about teenagers - after all we were all one once angst ridden, tormented, self absorbed, idealistic, misunderstood, unloved - so you think we would have no problem some years down the track dealing with our own teenager's tormented souls. And that is the conumdrum of it all. Our brains, unbeknown to us, moved on from being teenage brains somewhere in our 20s (hopefully), maybe by our 30s (more likely). But now that our wiring is different, we have no understanding really on what is going on in our darlings' brains.
This book attempts to redress this lack of knowledge and understanding to us - parents, teachers, other significant grown ups. Frances Jensen is a professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. Blessedly, she is also the parent of two fine sounding young men who were once teenagers. It would seem, from her biography blurb at the back of this book, that she is a specialist in the developing brain and age specific therapies. So, not so much a handbook on how to deal with your teenager(s), more a handbook on what is going on inside their heads and so lead to some understanding. So this may seem like a medical book and not for the average teen parent, but it is extremely readable, probably because it was co-authored with a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer who writes for the Washington Post and so well used to turning medical language/concepts/theories etc into everday language for us mere mortals.
There is plenty of brain terminology in this book - amygdala, frontal cortex, cortical map, hippocampus, hypothalamus, myelin, how they all work, how they change and interact with each other during the teen years to produce a different type of brain at the end of it all. And most importantly how all these changes lead to and directly cause the behaviours that we see so frequently in our teens - their flawed decision making, impulsiveness, inability to be rational, sensible, that boys' brains are different from girls' brains, why their body clock is out of whack. As I have said, Ms Jensen is a scientist, not a psychologist, so not much in this book on how to deal with teenagers. But I found myself regularly referring to NZ psychologist and author Nigel Latta's writings on parenting teenagers, with his Mad Uncle Jacks and Mad Aunt Janes, which gives plenty of advice on dealing with all this weird and alarming brain change. So I think the two complement each other very nicely.
There were some sections of medical terminology and explanation when I felt my eyes glazing over, but throughout the book the authors are constantly referencing the biology with the evidence, that is what we see, and so it does all gradually come together, and I do know a lot more about the functioning of the brain than previously.
A lot of issues are covered in this book that affect teenagers differently from children and adults. How the brain learns, sleep patterns, risk taking, the effects of alcohol and cannabis, mental illness and the digital invasion. The two chapters that I found the most alarming and that I think all parents should have an understanding of are stress and its impact on teenage wellbeing, and the danger of sports and concussions. This book is written by an American and published in America, but many of the issues in high schools and colleges there are also in New Zealand schools. With an 18 year old and a 20 year old, our time in the dark, never ending teenage tunnel is thankfully nearing an end, and the light is getting brighter and closer. But there is an increasing obsession in our schools to be the best in sport and/or academics to the detriment of the students supposedly earning that glory. As these two chapters reveal, the impact of this endless race to the top can take a serious toll on our young ones, physically, mentally and emotionally. As parents, the ones closest to our teens, we really do need to be mindful of how things can go wrong inside their heads that may take some time to actually show up.
There is a lot of very good stuff in this book, reading it will certainly increase your arsenal of information about teenagers, and hopefully your understanding and communication with them.