Skip to main content

Money and Justin Bieber's teenage brain

By Peggy Drexler
updated 1:36 PM EST, Sun January 26, 2014
Justin Bieber walks on a beach in Panama on Saturday, January 25, two days after he was charged in Miami with drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license. The pop star is accompanied by his new girlfriend, model Chantel Jeffries, who is wearing the orange bikini. Justin Bieber walks on a beach in Panama on Saturday, January 25, two days after he was charged in Miami with drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license. The pop star is accompanied by his new girlfriend, model Chantel Jeffries, who is wearing the orange bikini.
HIDE CAPTION
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: There are teenagers like Justin Bieber on every block
  • Drexler: A young person who has so much money -- and power -- can do crazy things
  • She says parents can instill values, but it's hard when a kid is the breadwinner
  • Drexler: Still, there are teen stars who grow up fine even if they have a lot of money

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- Cyndi Lauper had a hit in the 1980s called "Money Changes Everything." She has a point. It may or may not buy happiness, but money -- especially truckloads of it -- does change things, including endowing the holder of the checkbook with power.

Now, take a teenager and give him that power. What happens?

Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and the other teen stars that have crashed to earth in a shower of tabloid sparks, may only be doing what a great many teenagers would be doing -- if they could.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

There are teenagers like Justin Bieber on every block. But imagine the kid who cuts your lawn suddenly having a net worth of about $130 million.

The same teen brain that convinces its host that he won't get caught if he throws a party at the house while mom and dad are away now knows it owns the house -- and it's a mansion, with Lamborghinis outside loaned gratis by a friendly dealer. Woohoo!

Vanilla Ice: Biebs, come work with me
What are Bieber's parents like?

It's long been said that by age 5 or 6, a child's brain is 95% of its adult size. But neuroscientists, enlightened by MRI technology, are discovering it is still changing -- creating connections, adding and shedding cells. That process is particularly active in the prefrontal cortex -- the part that makes judgments like drag racing through residential neighborhoods.

Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, led studies that found the teen brain development was a process of adding and pruning. Significantly, he said, brain cells at that age are influenced by what the teen does. If he plays sports, the brain cells will make connections that help with that. If he sits on the couch and plays video games, then the cells will be hardwired for those activities.

The only real moderating influence -- as it is for any teenager -- is the parents. But instilling discipline and values can be a daunting exercise when the child is the breadwinner. It can be difficult to tell your child they can't have the car tonight -- when he's the one who paid for it.

Some parents -- like the Lohans -- are simply not up to the job. Others -- like the parents of Britney Spears or Amanda Bynes -- may have had their job complicated by what appear to be mental problems. Unfortunately, today, those problems are there for all to see. Every failure of a troubled celebrity teen spreads like digital wildfire.

Still, for every Justin Bieber, there is a Ron Howard, Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster -- child stars who navigated the rocky shoals of teen years into successful adulthood. Actor Rance Howard, in an interview, said he raised well-adjusted child star sons, Clint and Academy-award winning Ron, by removing their money from the family's life. "We chose not to live on what the boys could afford," he said, "but what I could afford."

Let's hope Justin will find his way. But romping in a mountain of money like most kids play in a pile of leaves, and surrounded by an entourage of dependent cheerleaders, won't make it easy. As the developing cells of his teenage brain react to the world around him -- money does change everything.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT