Whenever I talk about adolescent development, I spend some time talking about the intellect, the brain, and cognitive abilities. We covered that topic just a couple of nights ago as I was leading our No Parent Left Behind seminar in Alberta, Canada. And every time I talk about the teenage brain, my own brain reaches deep (or not so deep) into my own memory, recalling the ways that my own not-so-developed frontal lobe and almost-absent impulse control mechanisms mixed it up pretty well.
The memories that pop into my head first involve cars. We all know that teenagers and cars are sometimes a lethal mix. Let a mind lacking impulse control take the controls of a couple hundred horses mounted under the hood of a speed machine. . . and. . . well. . . you know. You’ve most likely been there. I know I was. I think my dad may have been as well. I remember him telling me that he did some stuff when he was a teenager. When I’d ask “What stuff?”. . . he would go silent. I knew he went silent because I was looking for new and exciting ways to let my lack of impulse control shine.
Perhaps I’ve become like my dad in the sense that I don’t want to fully divulge all the little details of some of my teenage motor-fueled impulse-driven adventures. What I can tell you is that some of my adventures involved my dad’s cars. One car was the same model and color as the unmarked cars used by a local police force. Let’s just say that the cover of darkness, a good hiding place on the side of the road, a hand-held spotlight, and some flashing headlights. . . well. . . I was able to pull a few people over. Other adventures involved a different car. I learned that a good front-end alignment, some very true-steering, and a straight road. . . well. . . again. . . you could drive from somewhere other than the driver’s seat. That’s all I’m saying.
Alison Gopnik’s little Wall Street Journal piece that appeared last Saturday – “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?” – offers some great insight into not only what was going on in my adolescent head, but how that has been changing over the years. Puberty arrives earlier. Adulthood is arriving later. Lots and lots of interesting stuff is happening in the period in between. The wonders of modern imaging technologies have coupled with advances in research to help us understand the amazing complexities and God-glorifying structures of the human brain. If we’re working with or raising kids, these are things we need to know and understand. Give Gopnik’s article a read. Pass it on to the parents and youth workers you know.
I love this metaphor from Gopnik’s article: “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.” Interesting. I think the teenage version of me. . . in a car. . . serves as “Exhibit A.”
(If you want to know more about adolescent development, you can check out a couple of books that we’ve got here at CPYU on the topic. . . The Space Between. . . and 99 Thoughts For Parents of Teenagers)