Crazy By Design, Altered States and Wake Up, It's Noon are just a few of the chapter titles in this well-written overview of the most current research findings about the teen brain. Most of us were taught that, by about age 12, the brain was nearly fully developed. However, new research that has resulted from breakthroughs in technology now tells us that the adolescent years are nearly as important as the first three years of life in terms of brain development. The book looks at current brain research and at a wide range of institutions by clinicians from a variety of backgrounds.
At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Jay Giedd, a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist, began looking at the teen brain over ten years ago. Aided by high-tech equipment that enables scientists to look inside the brain, Giedd and his colleagues have studied thousands of active brain scans. While Giedd is quick to point out that we are "a long way from explaining the teenager who makes LSD in a high school science lab" we now do know that "the adolescent brain undergoes a massive remodeling of its basic structure, in areas that affect everything from logic and language to impulses and intuition."
The author makes reading the supporting data for these new theories from universities both easy and enjoyable. Universities with supporting data include UCLA, UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Wayne State, Harvard Medical School, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Toronto along with research findings from places like the Santa Fe Institute, the Sackler Institute, McLean Hospital and the Montreal Neurological. She adds humorous and oh-so-recognizable vignettes about teens to illustrate the meaning of the research.
This book offers valuable information for parents, grandparents and even folks who have teens living next door. Helping professionals working with teens should read this book, too. For those of us in the business of working with troubled teens, the three chapters that delve into how kids get derailed and the projected effects of nicotine, alcohol and drugs on the teen brain offer new insight - and hope - but much more work needs to be done before we have definitive answers to "why they act that way."
There is one very concrete bit of knowledge and subsequent advice that does come from the book - teens need, on average, 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night. So, put them to bed at 8 pm, right? Well, to complicate matters with just one small example, it turns out that melatonin, one of the brain's "sleep chemicals" experiences a "phase delay" during the teen years. In other words, the melatonin starts to be secreted up to two hours later in teens than it did in childhood…and two hours later than it begins being secreted in their parents' brains! The author's advice - "let them sleep" -- has significant implications for everything we do with teens and especially for the right time to start their school day no matter where they are going.
The book The Primal Teen is available at book stores and at Amazon.com. The cover story of the May 10, 2004 edition of TIME Magazine, entitled Secrets of the Teen Brain features Dr. Giedd's work. Reprints for your files or to give to clients are available from TIME online.
About the Author:Barbara Strauch is the medical science and health editor of the New York Times and the mother of two teenagers.