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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM for December 19, 2000

Aired December 19, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: Hi. Time for your Tuesday NEWSROOM. Welcome. I'm Rudi Bakhtiar. We begin with a look at today's agenda.

In today's top story, we're all about you and your brain. And we're keeping an eye on U.S. presidential politics.

Then our "Health Desk" asks, who's home alone?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some things we can do but some things we can't. But we can usually do anything we want.


BAKHTIAR: Next, "Worldview" gets us moving with a trip to the Middle East to check out life in the Holy Land.

And finally, we'll check out high-tech equipment that allows physicians to get inside your head like never before.

Topping today's show, mind-bending information that's all about your brain. Turns out hormones aren't the only reason teenagers sometimes act crazy. You know the behavior we're talking about: rapid mood swings, poor self-control. Now a team of neuroscientists says there's a reason why adolescent brains seem different: They literally are.

NEWSROOM's Shelley Walcott has this report.


SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST (voice-over): The teen years can roar in like a lion, turning an otherwise easygoing kid into one with ferocious mood swings.

DR. JAY GIEDD, NEUROSCIENTIST, NATL. INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I think, in general, teens get kind of a bad rap.

WALCOTT: Maybe so. But teens have been known for making silly decisions, appearing out to lunch in the area of self-control, running hot, then cold, loving you one minute, hating you the next.

(on camera): It's behavior often blamed on hormones or youth rebellion. But scientists say the root of teen tantrums could be buried deep in their brains.

(voice-over): While using sophisticated brain-mapping technology, U.S. and Canadian scientists made a startling discovery.

GIEDD: It used to be thought that the brain didn't change very much after about the age of 3 or 4. But by studying teens, we now know that the teenage brain is changing very dramatically and very dynamically.

WALCOTT: In other words, the adolescent brain isn't as fully developed as scientists had previously thought, a theory that tends to provoke strong reactions from some kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that's dumb, personally. We're just young. We're having fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if it's scientifically proven, I guess I have to give some credit to that. But, personally, I'd have to see the results myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just having fun. It's not like we're retarded or like -- are you all stupid or something?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, see, we're just out here trying to have some fun, basically, you know. You're only young once.

WALCOTT: For a long time, scientists believed the most important time in brain development occurred during the first few years of life, an assumption that prompted many parents to stimulate newborns with classical music or alphabet flash cards.


WALCOTT: Turns out, parents of young children can relax a bit since researchers say a child's brain is still developing way into puberty.

Just as a teen is all arms and legs one day and all nose and ears the next, different regions of his or her brain also have an awkward sense of timing, with neural growth spurts that seem to coincide with important leaps in learning abilities.

Researchers say there are three major periods of brain growth. The first occurs between the ages of 3 and 6. That's when there is a virtual forest fire of growth in the front of the brain.

DR. ELIZABETH SOWELL, NEUROSCIENTIST, UCLA LAB OF NEURO IMAGING: We know that the frontal lobes are regions of the brain that are responsible for things like planning, organization, inhibiting inappropriate responses, controlling emotion. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes me and my friends, we laugh a lot and we have a lot of jokes and stuff. My parents, they're kind of down to earth and not like that.

WALCOTT: As children grow older, the wave of rapid growth in the frontal lobes responsible for all that organization and planning slows down, not picking up again until much later in adolescence into early adulthood.

SOWELL: Teenagers can plan and organize their lives, just not as well as they probably can when they're maybe 20, 25.

WALCOTT: The second phase of brain development takes place between the ages of 7 and 13. At that time, there is a growth spurt toward the middle and back of the brain, areas that affect, among other things, language skills.

DR. PAUL THOMPSON, NEUROSCIENTIST, UCLA LAB OF NEURO IMAGING: So one of the things you might want to do is you might say, you know, maybe learn a language a little bit younger. You know, I want to learn French or learn Spanish or something like this. That might be a key period for educating children in that type of skill.

WALCOTT: But all this rapid growth suddenly ends around the ages of 13 to 15. During this final phase, the brain begins to fine-tune itself for the adult years, holding on to neurons and connections that get used a lot and shedding those that are hardly used at all; a time when certain motor skills, like playing an instrument, become more of a challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I started playing guitar last year. I'm still pretty bad at it, so, you know, that might support the theory.

WALCOTT: Scientists say the brain's growth pattern also explains the characteristic most associated with adolescence: teen angst, that feeling of edginess, an inability to control emotions, plain old stress. All this, scientists say, can be traced to the amygdala. That's the area of the brain that controls fear, the fight or flight response. Teen emotions are centered around the amygdala since their frontal lobes, which temper emotions, are still not fully developed.

DR. DEBORAH YURGELUN-TODD, NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST, MCLEAN HOSPITAL: It has implications for anything that requires a responsible review of the consequences. And that could be anything from decisions about what kind of work one's going to do, how you're going to apply yourself in school, what kind of relationships you want to have.

WALCOTT (on camera): So whether it's learning French, learning to play an instrument, or learning to control anger, biology plays a big part in those all-important teen years. And while parents may not have much say in the development of their child's brain, they can make a difference in another crucial area.

SOWELL: If parents really understand that maybe their teenagers are a little bit scattered or disorganized or take risks or are rebellious because the part of their brain that would keep them from doing that isn't yet finished. So I think it just, again, reinforces that strong structure and support through the teenage years is of critical importance.

WALCOTT (voice-over): Scientists say they will continue to probe the teenage brain. And they say parents should take heart. Even though it might sound like the teen brain is nothing more than a mental mosh pit, adolescence is actually the time when nature steps in to help a teenager grow up.

Shelley Walcott, CNN.


BAKHTIAR: Typical teen behavior. Scientists say it's often a symptom of the human brain under construction, which begs the question, how does a grownup brain work? And what are the things that pose a potential danger to its development?

Here again is Shelley Walcott.


WALCOTT (voice-over): Your brain. It's what helps you out for a walk on a sunny morning; the thing that alerts you when you're feeling too hot or too cold. It's what makes the scent of flowers pleasant and the memory of receiving them pure joy.

The brain has been called the "master control center" of the body. Executive decisions from a very delicate organ.

GIEDD: Nature's gone through a great deal of trouble to protect the brain. It's wrapped in a tough leathery membrane surrounded by a protective moat of fluid, and completely encased in bone.

WALCOTT (on camera): The brain is a grayish, pink, jelly-like ball with lots of ridges and grooves on its surface. But no one brain looks exactly alike. In fact, it's as individual as your face or your fingerprints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What keeps the moon is orbit with the Earth?

WALCOTT (voice-over): A healthy brain stores information from past experiences, making learning and remembering possible. The brain is mostly made up of gray and white matter. Gray matter are the actual nerve cells that process information. White matter are the long nerve fibers that move information long distances.

For example, it's your brain's gray matter that recognizes a tennis ball on its way over the net, while the white matter orders the swing sending the ball back to the other side of the court.

In a fully developed adult brain, white matter is fully wrapped in myelin, a fatty substance that lets nerves transmit signals faster and more efficiently. Some nerves, including those that regulate emotion, judgment and impulse control, are not fully covered in myelin until a person is in their early 20s. As a result, circuits that make sense of incoming information to the brain are still under construction until about the age of 16. All the more reason, scientists say, to protect the growing brain from harmful substances.

GIEDD: It's a real unfortunate irony that at this time when the brain is most vulnerable during this adolescent pruning period is also the time when teens are most likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol.

WALCOTT: Scientists are still trying to pinpoint exactly how different types of drugs affect the brain. But Dr. Giedd says one form of inhalant abuse, called huffing, is definitely harmful.

GIEDD: What that does is, as the inhalants go up through the nose, they go directly to the front part of the brain and damage it. That's what gives you this sort of altered feeling. But it's hard to imagine, as a brain scientist, a worse way, you know, to alter your feelings, by directly damaging the brain cells in this critical front part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that sort of separates man from beast.

WALCOTT: Aside from addiction, scientists are looking into how brain development during the teen years could be linked to eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, as well as learning and developmental problems such as autism and attention deficit disorder.

The research goes on, but neuroscientists say they know one thing for sure: This three-pound mass made up of billions of cells plays one of the most crucial roles in human life.

Shelley Walcott, CNN.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The floor is now open for nominations.


BAKHTIAR: Electors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their ballots Monday, bringing an end to the historic United States presidential election. President-elect George W. Bush received 271 electoral votes, one more than needed to claim the White House. Florida's 25 electors cast their ballots for Bush, capping a five-week dispute over who'd win the state's electoral votes and thus the presidency. Despite some attempts by Republicans and Democrats to sway electors to defect from their party pledges, none did so.

Although some states require electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote, others just ask electors to make a pledge to their political party. Just three faithless Bush electors could have put the White House in Vice President Al Gore's hands. The United States Constitution requires electors in every state to cast ballots formally, then send an official certificate to Congress stating whom each elector voted for. The next step in the election process will take place Jan. 6 when Congress tallies the electoral votes and makes them official so Bush can take over as the United States' 43rd president.

What are you doing between the hours when school lets out and your parents get home from work? Well, if you go home to an empty house, you're not alone. Millions of children are home alone after school, left to fend for themselves while their parents are gone. Experts say it's a growing phenomenon and cause for concern.

Holly Firfer has more.


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 3:00 on a day like any other; 9-year-old Megan and her 11-year-old sister Sarah come home from school, grab a snack, do some homework, then watch TV. And just like nearly 7 million other children in the U.S., they are alone.

The most recent census report show more than 2 million children ages 5 to 11 and more than 4 million children ages 12 to 14 were left unsupervised in 1995 while their parents worked or were away from home. According to the numbers, 13 percent of children were left alone more than 10 hours a week unsupervised, which some say is a cause for concern.

KRISTIN SMITH, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU: It very well may be that they are taking care of themselves during the after-school hours from 3:00 to 6:00, when other research has shown that there is a spike in the crime rate against juveniles and juvenile crime rate during that time.

FIRFER: Educators point to programs designed to provide healthy environments as a solution, but say parents must be responsible in getting their children involved in these programs, like this one at the YWCA.

AYESHA KHANNA, CEO, YWCA OF GREATER ATLANTA: So they're exposed to learning and enrichment and recreation. Both are critical to keep kids engaged and to protect them from negative influences.

FIRFER: But as most things in life, there is a price, and it's rising. In 1985, the average cost of child care was $59 a week. In 1995, it went up to $85.

For many like Megan and Sarah's mom -- we're not using their last name -- there are no other choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish I didn't have to do it. I wish I really had a job that I was home by 3:00. And I know they would like that too, but they understand that it's not in the cards right now.

FIRFER: Holly Firfer, CNN, Atlanta.


BAKHTIAR: Before you leave for home, we have more on your brain coming up in "Chronicle." We'll delve into its development and tell you how that affects your behavior.

In "Worldview," we focus on the Middle East and the West Bank. It's an area of contention, one of several blocking a Palestinian- Israeli peace deal. Radical Palestinian groups are criticizing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for agreeing to hold peace talks with Israel despite continued violence.

TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: With Christmas just around the corner, many people's thoughts are turning to the Holy Land, where Christ was born 2,000 years ago. It is a land ravaged by ancient hostilities, where in recent months Arabs and Jews have once again been acting out their hatred for each other. Many of the most violent clashes are occurring in the West Bank, an area west of the Jordan River that Israel captured during the so-called Six-Day war in 1967. Today it's home to about 1 1/2 million people, mostly Palestinian Arabs and a Jewish minority who have moved into dozens of the settlements there in the years since.

As Christiane Amanpour reports, life for those Jewish residents is becoming more and more precarious each day.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the top of this small hill sit the Israeli settlement of Psagot, which means "summit" in Hebrew. On one side, it overlooks a valley. That's where Hindy Cohen lives.

HINDY COHEN, ISRAELI SETTLER: When we look out here on this area, we see really the prophecy of God, that this is part of Israel. And this is really Utopia. And this is what we pray for -- this peace that God has promised us. And on the other side where my neighbors are, you see Ramallah, and you see the smoke and you see the fighting of Ramallah, and you hear the gunshots every night. And that's reality. And here we have the prophecy, and there we have reality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It comes from all around. At the beginning they used to have a car that went along that road and started to shoot. Then it can be from that building where they shot at, or it can be over there, or it can be from over there. Every night it's a different place.

AMANPOUR: Evita and Benny Mazouz (ph) have put sandbags on their balcony and settled into a state of psychological warfare with Palestinians in the town of El Bireh and Ramallah just a stone's throw away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have more and more fears about the very existence of the whole country, even though people think that it's just the settlements. This is not true. I think the whole country is in danger. AMANPOUR: Benny and Evita settled here 18 years ago. Six of their eight children were born here. And like most settlers, they believe they have a right to keep this land forever Jewish. They also believe the latest fighting has united them, even with Israelis who view settlement as an obstacle to peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came because we believe that this is our country. This is the place that we have to in live because we have nowhere else to live. And even at that time, we knew that if we don't live in this area, then this area will be given to the Arabs.

AMANPOUR (on camera): And that's unacceptable?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unacceptable because it's a matter of if we give here, then they come further in. They'll come to Jerusalem. If we live in Tel Aviv, they'll come to Tel Aviv. And I strongly believe, and he, Arafat, keeps saying it all the time, he wants everything.

AMANPOUR: You really believe that the Palestinians want to encroach into Tel Aviv?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe not Tel Aviv, but Jaffo and Haifa and Jerusalem. So what's left? Two millimeters? He won't stop at the two millimeters. He'll have that, too. He doesn't want the Jewish people. We're a bother to him.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): All the old slogans and fears have resurfaced with the latest confrontation.

COHEN: The Arabs are building houses all over Psagot. They're inching closer and closer and closer. And this is land that they just take.

AMANPOUR: But this was land occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. And ever since, Israeli governments have allowed and even encouraged Jews to settle here. Many came from America and Europe, their tidy lawns and row houses a mirror image of home.

But in these isolated pockets amid large Palestinian populations, many settlers tote guns and they drive their children to school in bullet-proof busses guarded by Israeli soldiers.

Today, most of this contested land -- that's being shrunk with each settlement -- is being offered back in exchange for peace with the Palestinians.

(on camera): Throughout the seven-year peace process, construction has continued. About 78,000 new settlers have moved here to the territories. In all, about 200,000 Jews live in 140 settlements that are scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza. And it's no accident that much of the recent fighting has erupted around these settlements. (voice-over): Palestinians regularly fire at Israeli military outposts that are set up solely to protect these settlements. The Israeli army returns fire. Mashour Abudakr (ph) and his family live down below in El Bireh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really angry. I'm extremely angry. We simply cannot co-exist with these people. They are living in a ghetto. They are privileged. They are living over in land that has been taken from us, and then now they are terrorizing us every night. And this is the ultimate humiliation. We cannot really continue living like this with them. We had enough. That's it.

AMANPOUR: Mashour is a self-proclaimed pacifist. He sends his children to the Quaker school. But listening to the settlers claim this hill enrages him.

ABUDAKR: This is absolutely rubbish. And they have to think, who owns this land? They have to think. We have papers for this land. And the people who shoot at them, they have good reason to do so. I'm not justifying this, but they come and say, OK, this is my land. I want it back.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, residents of Psagot assume that Israel will dismantle their settlement in any final peace deal. So would they leave?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's the end to it? We don't have a right to live, only they do? They can go to any other country in the world in the Arab world and live just like any other citizen.

AMANPOUR: But Benny thinks eventually they may have to bow to the inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the government decides we're not dissidents, we are crying, and we'll pack our things and we'll go, even though I think this will be a fatal mistake on the part of the government. I think this is going to be one of the worst things any Israeli government will do.

AMANPOUR: Until the sun sets on a real peace, both Palestinians and the settlers say they are willing to kill and die for places like Psagot.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, in the Psagot settlement on the West Bank.


BAKHTIAR: It's a question parents of teenagers have no doubt asked themselves: How can I tell if my child is normal? For a long time, the answer to that question was pretty elusive because scientists didn't really have a tool that could safely probe young brains. That's all changed thanks to a new brain-mapping technique that's thrown open the window to the adolescent mind.

Here again is Shelley Walcott. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALCOTT (voice-over): The mental mysteries of youth. What makes teenagers act the way they do? And when is the best time to teach them the skills that will make them well-rounded adults?

Researchers say they are figuring out the answers to these questions and others thanks to a new brain-mapping technique. It's called magnetic resonance imaging, the MRI, technology, they say, that has revolutionized study of the human brain.

GIEDD: Advances in computers and mathematics and imaging technology now allow us to examine the developing brain as never before.

WALCOTT: The MRI scanner looks a lot like a huge X-ray machine, but it's actually a giant magnet.

DR. SUSAN BOOKHEIMER, NEUROSCIENTIST, UCLA LAB OF NEURO IMAGING: And what it does is it creates a large magnetic field in which particles inside your brain, actually hydrogen molecules, turn toward the magnet and move around in a certain way that creates a signal that we can pick up with a special antenna and reconstruct into a picture of your brain.

WALCOTT: A very detailed, three-dimensional picture. An MRI snapshot highlights different tissue types, giving them different colors, allowing scientists to see differences between the brain's gray and white matter.

Gray matter are the actual nerve cells that process information; white matter the long nerve fibers that move that information long distances; both key parts of the brain.

BOOKHEIMER: We can, therefore, look at a picture like this and tell how much gray matter there is, how much white matter there is, if there's anything abnormal in the brain, whether everything is where it should be.

WALCOTT: The MRI is a powerful machine, but it is still one of the safest ways to study children's brains.

GIEDD: Old ways of looking at the living brain such as X-rays or CT scans use harmful radiation. So we couldn't use that to study healthy children. But MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, changed all that. It allows safe pictures of very good anatomy of the growing, living human brain, and has launched this whole new era of adolescent neuroscience.

WALCOTT: Teens used as subjects on the MRI must first be demagnetized.

BOOKHEIMER: And then I need to know if there's anything left in your pockets or anything like that. No metal objects? Any body piercings that you're hiding from us?

WALCOTT: It's to make sure anything metallic that could be ripped off by the highly magnetic machine is removed.

Next, teens are given headsets and special goggles fitted with tiny TV sets. Not exactly the comforts of home, but it still helps stave off boredom.

Next, they lie flat on a table that passes through a long, narrow cylinder of the MRI unit.

BOOKHEIMER: Can you hear me OK?


BOOKHEIMER: OK, I can hear you very loud and clear. I'm going to play a movie for you while you're in there and while we're getting set up, OK?


BOOKHEIMER: OK, we're going to play some beeps and bumps from the scanner. You'll be hearing it in the background. Just ignore it and try to keep your head nice and still, OK?


BOOKHEIMER: OK, here we go.

WALCOTT: Current MRI technology requires a person to sit very still for at least eight minutes, making it very difficult to map the brains of children under age 3. But scientists have managed to successfully scan at least one 3-year-old and several other children under age 15.

Some received scans just two weeks apart, others at intervals as long as four years in order for scientists to track changes in a child's brain over the short and long term.

With the scans, scientists were able to produce high resolution maps that track changes in brain development. Just half an inch of growth adds up to millions of new brain cells that help boost a child's ability to take on new skills.

SOWELL: And, again, we've only been able to -- in the last maybe 10 or 15 years -- we've only been able to study normal development because of the non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging that we use here.

WALCOTT: Scientists have come a long way in their study of the teen brain, and say they still have a ways to go. But most agree that research from the MRI has key implications for understanding young minds and how they really work.

Shelley Walcott, CNN.


BAKHTIAR: That does it for us here on NEWSROOM. We'll see you back here tomorrow, same time, same place. Bye.



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