You only need to know me a brief while to realize I’m a bit of a geek. It’s okay, I’m fine with it. I tend to find some of the most random subjects of conversation appealing and intriguing. Often I’ll read a book on a topic that to many may seem sad or weird or, well, geeky, but I can’t contain the curiosity.
Given my previous experiences with teenagers (and my continued love for them), Marko’s blog about extended adolesence had my mind whirling. I find it all absolutely fascinating. I asked him for further reads on the subject (currently The Primal Teen) and I’m passing my overly-nonnatal afternoons with reading up on the teenage brain.
Today’s snippet (I’ll give you the Cliff’s notes version; I’ve learned most people can’t stick with me on these kinds of escapades) . ED: skip about 3 more paragraphs to get the real point) involved the emergence of a new understanding regarding the teenage brain, namely that there’s a growth spurt of sorts that rivals that of toddlerhood in the front of the brain – the area that helps us reason and plan and think.
The author cites several studies and summarizes that basically brain development is the continued path toward learning impulse control. She quotes a neuroscience as saying “development is progressive inhibition.” Basically, it’s not that we’re necessarily learning new tasks all the time, but that we’re also learning not to mimic certain behaviors at specific points in time. I’d like to make friends with a neuroscientist so s/he could tell me that I’m right when I say that learning comes through mimicking or mirroring behavior and repetition of the task (oh, toddlerhood, there you are again!), while maturity correlates to the ability to stop the behavior at appropriate times. So, H learns about going potty n through watching, imitating and repetition. He becomes a mature pee-er when he stops doing it in the front lawn.
Now, how can you not find that fascinating??? Brain development and maturity is not simply the addition of new skills, but the control of response with the skills you already have. Think about some of the most immature adults you know (and please don’t mention that Yours Truly made the list). Most/many of their less marketable qualities can probably be tossed into a pile of lack of impulse control… say, over what comes out of their mouths (ahem… oh, hey there Pot! It’s Kettle…), issues with anger, etc.
So, here’s my deeper thought related to how this affects Yours Truly, one currently without teenagers but who loves them so. I believe firmly in the “takes a village” philosophy; teenagers and children need strong relationships with non-parental adults (another interesting read on that by Rage Against the Minivan). I love building relationships with young people because they’re interesting, they have their eyes open to things I don’t see, and they’re better at keeping me hip and well dressed. But I also believe they need adult relationships through the process of becoming an adult. And I hope – pray! – that other wonderful adults will feel similarly when my own children are navigating the stormy seas of adolescence. Or childhood. Or adulthood. Face it, we all need lots of love.
And in our relationships with these young, easily-shaped-yet-perhaps-not-so-good-at-impulse-control minds, perhaps in the back of our heads we can remember that what would benefit these brains the most is setting an example of limits. Here’s how to say no. This is what it means to draw a healthy boundary. And if we’re honest, adults nowadays aren’t so great at that. Our generation (and a few ahead of us) really kind of stink at saying no to working when we should be resting. We feel like over-involvement is a better option and sign ourselves – and maybe our kids – up for more than the household can handle. We buy more than we can afford and can’t resist a good splurge.
I read a recent FB post that said that it’s not what we want that is the problem, it’s how badly we want it (TOTAL paraphrase). And I think part of teaching our children, and teens, what it means to be an adult is to live a life that knows a bit about self-control (I promise, I don’t have inner control issues or anything…). Or maybe it’s not so much about “self-control” but about purposeful living. Taking action because you believe it to be so and not just because we’re driven by society or a whim.
But it’s just a thought.