Monday, November 26, 2007
Do teenagers think rationally?
My daughter didn't come home for Thanksgiving this year. A junior at Syracuse, this was the first time she was away from our house on a major holiday. She decided to spend it with a boy she's known a few months and took off for Boston. She had turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie with a family I don't even know. To say I was upset is an understatement. Since she's my only child, the blow was pretty tough.
Psychologists will tell me however, that actions like this are age appropriate, and that I shouldn't take it so hard. Teenagers and kids of college age often don't think before they do. You can have a straight "A" student one minute, who's loving and kind and thoughtful and in the next instant, a child who seems not to care at all about others' feelings.
The experts say it has to do with brain development. Seems that after the age of 13, the brain in a young adult outwardly looks just like a brain of someone in his or her late 20s, but it doesn't process information as well. The part of the brain that helps us make logical and rational decisions is just developing in a teen and usually it's not fully functional until the early to mid-20s. Since that part of the brain is still not mature, it can't handle stress and decision-making as well as a full-grown adult brain. It overloads. That can lead to judgments that an adult brain might not make.
Have you ever wondered about your teens and why they do the things they do? How one moment they can recite the Gettysburg Address backwards and the next minute they can't even put on clean clothes? Scientists say the brain is to blame.
I have a friend whose daughter is a freshman at Emory University, one of the finest educational institutions in the country. She's bright, talented and a great student. Last month, she needed to fax a document to her father for him to sign. Her dad gave her his number at work and waited for her to send the fax. After an hour, he called and asked why he had not received it. She said she was in the media room in her dorm and she couldn't get the fax to work, even though the light was working. After talking to her for a few minutes, it became apparent that his daughter wasn't using the fax machine, she was making copies.
That's a funny story, and after my Thanksgiving, I can relate.
But many times teens make choices that have long-term and far-reaching consequences: heavy drinking, smoking, taking drugs, having unprotected sex and even thinking of suicide. The teenage brain, although underdeveloped, is also a complex mish-mash of anxiety and confusion. Because of its complexity, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are now to trying to map how the teen brain functions. They hope by pinpointing some of the irregularities in the young brain, they can prevent some of these potentially damaging behaviors from ever taking place.
As for my daughter, I assume she's back at Syracuse. I am still hurt by her choice to spend Thanksgiving away from her family. But I won't stay angry long. I understand this is a time for her to grow. I love her.
But next year, she better be eating green bean casserole at our house.
How do you cope when your children's actions don't match your parental expectations?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• New stem cells: what they could mean to you
• Autism: Finding Amanda
• Living with chronic disease... pain into action
• Dr. Gupta becomes the patient
• Typing your way to pain
• Learn to save a life in one hour
• What the nose doesn't know
• Fit buddies/We want to hear from you!
• Are you in rhythm?
• The evolution of attraction