The Teen Brain and Behavior

The September 27, 2007 issue of USA Today carried an extensive article on the teenage brain. Two items from the article deserve special attention.

The first is a study finding that when kids showed resistance to peer pressure, the prefrontal cortex thickened, and areas of the brain showed more connections. This illustrates an association between brain function and structure and resistance to peer influence. One of the prime advantages of teaching the Marvin Marshall Hierarchy is to help young people understand the difference between external motivation (referred to as level C – cooperation/conformity ) and internal motivation (referred to as level D – democracy) Here is a further description.

The second item states that more than the teen brain is at issue. "It's important for parents to be aware of this developmental phase, but the bigger issue is as a society, we need to re-evaluate our values. The nurturing we are doing falls short of the teenagers needs." Too many parents have the misconception that to raise healthy and responsible children, young people need to be protected from anything that could impinge negatively on their self-esteem. Examples abound, such as all children being given rewards just for being a member of a team, scores in games no longer kept so there will not be any "losers," and everyone's being a "winner" so as not to have any youngster feel bad.

This misconconception has given way to what is commonly referred to as "helicopter parents"—those who hover over their children in an attempt to protect the young from having them experience ANYTHING negative. In the process, such parents fail to practice a critical principal for promoting healthy, responsible citizens—namely, "Do not do things for young people which they can do for themselves."

The greater exposure young people have to understanding the concepts of internal and external motivation (especially peer influence) and the more they experience the "ups and downs" of life, the more they will be able to handle major challenges without resorting to external agents—be they alcohol, drugs, or victimhood thinking.