Monday, January 26, 2015

I Didn't "Get" Them When I Was One -- Reading/Reviewing The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (Jensen, Nutt)

I know! Stay Calm!  The world hasn't ended, just a two post weekend (well, technically it is Monday but I cant sleep making it still "my Sunday"), b/c the gratitude list had been a work in progress and because I finished up a book and figured I might as well review it while I'm awake (yes, not the best choice for sleep hygiene, but my sleep is a strange thing).

                                 The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults(image via

I'm fascinated by research into what makes human tick that lies at the intersection of psychology, sociology, and biology.  So, while among a slim number of readers who are neither parents nor teachers nor teens themselves, I was excited to read an advanced reader's copy supplied by the publisher, Harper.

The book includes a lot of science, something a prospective reader needs to know.  I could read and understand but not often remember the science from chapter to chapter.  Jensen begins with a general discussion of the teenage brain and much of what follows stems from the (relatively new) realization that teen brains are very much works in progress.  Jensen suggests many hallmarks of "typical teen" behavior stem from this fact, noting that the region that is still most underdeveloped is the frontal cortex which handles advanced decision making, including the ability to foresee the consequences of an action.  Jensen cites this evolving structure, which includes a rapid increase in brain connectivity, as the primary reason why teens act as they do and suggests social factors are largely secondary (as is the impact of hormones).  She also looks at the neurobiological consequences of certain behavior including drug/alcohol use.

After a general "primer" on neurobiology, Jensen hits a number of "hot" topics such as teens and the media (electronic and traditional), drugs and alcohol use, stress, mental illness, gender differences (ex. speed of development, use of different brain areas to accomplish tasks), and criminal behavior.  Each section discusses how teens behave and attempts to trace it to a biological root in the brain.  Throughout, Jensen also shares stories of her own teens, stories of teens she's been approached to help, and news/legal stories.

Overall, I enjoyed the read.  There's a lot in the book, including a lot of "stop and read outloud to share" facts/theories.  I did have a lot of trouble remembering certain details from chapter to chapter but the index in the complete version (mine is pre-sale reviewer's edition) might help.  Stories that connected/continued would also have been great ("we thought it was X, but then she did Y").  The pieces involving a parent contacting Jensen for help were among my favorite elements.  Jensen does share some general advice for parenting teens with a key point being repetition and general awareness of the teen's world.

A solid read for someone trying to understand a teen or just curious in general about the roots of behavior.  I read a fiction book at the same time since it could be a bit fact-dense for bedtime at points.  Parts dragged and some things were "missing" (i.e. teens and sex/sexuality).  3.5 stars, strongly want the half so rounding up on one site, down on the other full-stars-only review site.

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