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The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kidsby Barbara Strauch
Reading Group Guide
1. For many years, most people thought the adolescent brain was finished, cooked, just sitting there waiting for all that Chaucer, all that calculus, all that parental caution to pour in. Now, as Strauch writes, we are finding thats not the case. In fact, the teenage brain is still a work in progress, first bursting with new growth and then pruning back brain cells and brain branches, a process that continues well into a persons twenties. Does this surprise you?
2. The main explanation for a lot of teenage behavior has been the rampaging hormones of adolescence that bring on moods and misbehavior. Is it also possible that teens misbehave and ignore parental authority and advice because their brains are not fully grown? What influence do you think hormones have on behavior?
3. One of the places that is still under construction in the teenage brain, according to the research outlined in The Primal Teen, is the prefrontal cortex, the area that helps us see consequences of our actions and enables us to plan ahead. Could this be one reason that teenagers often do not seem to see the full consequences of their actions? Is this just another excuse for teenage behavior or does it help us to understand why they act the way they do?
4. As Strauch reports, a number of scientists have suggested that teenagers may not see the world as we see it and may respond with different areas of their brain. In particular, in stressful situations, they may respond more quickly with their more primal, emotional part of their brain because the frontal cortex, the more rational part, is not yet fully wired. If this is so, are there ways, as parents or teachers, that we can adjust our responses to teenagers?
5. Does the lack of a fully functioning prefrontal cortex contribute to a teenagers attraction to and assessment of risk?
6. Because the brain is still changing so dramatically in young people, new research shows that heavy drinking and drug taking may damage memory functions in the brain. And, in addition, negative experiences such as bullying or abuse can permanently reshape the pathways of the brain. What can be done in schools and at home to combat this?
7. Why dont teenagers seem to listen? Is it true that teenagers have a difficult time holding onto several instructions at once? One neuroscientist has found that it helps, when dealing with her teenagers, to ask them to do one thing at a time, rather than tell them to brush their hair, clean up their rooms, and empty the dishwasher-and being met with the stare of inaction.
8. If we are dealing with a developing brain-one that is not the same as an adults-at what point can we assume that the brain is mature enough to be held responsible in the same way adults are held responsible? Do you think that this new brain science will just be used as another excuse to go easy on teenagers?
9. Are there some aspects of adolescence-the teen sense of humor, the increasing ability of teenagers to understand abstract concepts-that we should focus more on and, instead of despairing, actually celebrate?
10. Is the news that a teenagers brain is still developing a basically hopeful message? Why?
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