Full frontal

If teen-agers live in your house, then at times you probably find yourself thinking: How can any human with a functioning brain act that way?

For example, you might catch your teen-ager teetering on the roof or "surfing" on the hood of a speeding car or "chugging" soda pop until it spurts out his nose.

If you are of the parental persuasion, you will not be able to help yourself. You will ask, "What the heck do you think you're doing?"

And the answer will be, "I dunno."

That answer, no matter how unsatisfactory, is the truth. Teens truly don't know why they do the things they do. Because they don't have fully functioning brains.

Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging have found that the human brain isn't fully developed until the person reaches his or her early 20s. (If then.) Teens engage in risky behavior and emotional upheaval and impulsive soda-chugging because their brains don't warn them of the potential consequences.

"We found that the frontal lobes were the last to develop," UCLA brain researcher Paul Thompson said in a recent news article. "These brain regions control inhibition, rash actions, rage and anger."

(So not only will your teens do incredibly stupid things, they'll get really mad when you point that out. It's the perfect combination, really, to drive a parent insane.)

While they're waiting for their minds to mature, teens use a primitive part of the brain called the amygdala, researchers said. The amygdala -- from the Latin "amyg," meaning "wild apes" and "dala," or "under your roof" -- controls aggressive behavior and the well-known "fight or flight" response in teens and other beasts.

These new discoveries explain many of the puzzles of modern society, such as the popularity of skateboards and "monster" trucks.

The lack of inhibition in the primitive teen brain accounts for such look-at-me phenomena as "streaking," tattoos, mall loitering, nose rings and thundering auto exhaust systems. Impulse control problems include binge drinking, temper tantrums, text messaging and watching "That '70s Show" on TV. Underdeveloped frontal lobes might even explain why young males insist on wearing their baseball caps backward; it might truly be more comfortable for them that way.

Parents can make use of this new research. When our teens start acting crazy, we can remind ourselves that they can't help it; they're not playing with a full deck. We can stop asking them for explanations of their bizarre behavior. When they wheedle and whine, demanding that we let them stay out late or arguing for more freedom, we can say: "Hey, you're not ready yet. We'll talk about it when you've got a full set of frontal lobes."

The researchers haven't gone far enough. The next area to explore: Where do teens' fresh frontal lobes come from?

I have a theory: Teens are brain-sucking vampires, feeding on the gray matter of their parents. During adolescence, the kids slowly get smarter and more responsible, but we parents get more stressed-out, disconnected and stupid. Worrying over our teen-agers, we literally "lose our minds."

If I'm right about this shift in brain power, then it would explain the "mid-life crisis," when adults (especially males) start acting like irresponsible teens -- driving fast cars, acquiring younger spouses, taking up "extreme" sports and wearing their caps backward on their bald heads.

Often, when we see some so-called adult acting this way, we think, "It's as if he got a lobotomy."
Now we know why. His teens have stolen his brain. And they won't give it back until Geritol spurts out his nose.

1 comment:

Erin said...

You ask a teenage boy: "What were you thinking??"
The answer:
"Absolutely nothing."
The unspoken sub-text: "What a stupid question."

You do your best to sweep away the ashes and debris, mutter something about insurance coverage, shake your head and move on.