Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Health

There's a reason why teenagers act the way they do

If your loving, kind, considerate child has changed, seemingly overnight, into a not so lovable teenage stranger, the reason may be out of your — and your teen's — control. Take it from Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist, neuroscientist and single mom who went through it, having raised two boys and survived, but only after immersing herself in the scientific research on brain development in 13- to 25-year-olds.

"I wanted to know what was going on with my two teenage sons who, over what seemed like a month, morphed into aliens I no longer recognized," joked Jensen, who is also chairwoman of neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jensen found that the brain of an adolescent or teenager is not the same as an adult brain "just with fewer miles on it," she likes to say. After an exhaustive review of medical and scientific research she learned that the brain is only about 80 percent developed by the time we reach adolescence and young adulthood.

The data was so enlightening and helpful that she wrote a book about it (with Amy Ellis Nutt) called The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (HarperCollins Books, January 2015).

Jensen spoke with the Tampa Bay Times from her home in Philadelphia about her research and her book, a New York Times bestseller.

So what's going on in the brain that seems to make the teen years so frustrating?

Teenagers make much more sense when you understand that the frontal lobes of the brain, the part responsible for judgment, impulse control, mood and emotions, is the last part to fully develop. It happens around age 25 to 30. So the brain just doesn't know how to regulate itself yet. That's why they seem very smart at times and at other times will make bad decisions, act on impulse and take uncalculated risks. They're like a Ferrari with weak brakes. That can be a big problem when they start driving and are exposed to drugs and alcohol, and if they don't have enough adult supervision to temper some of those risky behaviors.

Are you saying that teens aren't fully responsible for bad behavior?

Not quite. But they don't have the machinery yet to be fully accountable for all their actions, especially when risk-taking is involved.

Are our expectations sometimes too high?

Look at a teen and they look like an adult. They are wearing adult-sized clothes, but that doesn't mean they are grown up. We have to be mindful of that as parents. Remember, their brain is only 80 percent there.

Summer can be a scary time for parents of teens. How did you get through it with your sons?

It can be a wonderful time if you plan for it. Spend some time together. Have meals together. Take a weekend trip together away from home. Let them see how you get things done, how you handle problems. Help them get a job, paid or volunteer, that gives them some responsibility. Ask what they observe, listen to their observations, work through problems together. Connect with them. Don't alienate your teen, don't drift apart, don't be angry all the time. Above all, it's not okay for teens to be left at home alone all day, every day, especially with the Internet. That's a recipe for trouble.

Any final words of wisdom?

"Because I told you so" gets you nowhere. Kids like proof, data. My book lays out the science behind why kids do what they do. Also, count to 10 (or more) before you explode; talk to them calmly and have some empathy. Your teen is probably upset and scared, too. Remember, you're the adult and your frontal lobes are all on-line. Act like it.

Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]

Comments
Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Beginning next year, the Florida Hospital brand will be known as AdventHealth.The Central Florida-based health care chain, which has nearly 50 hospital campuses and more than 80,000 employees, including seven hospitals around Tampa Bay, announced the...
Published: 08/14/18
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Published: 08/14/18
Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

An unvaccinated child has contracted the contagious measles virus in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Health, which said Monday it is investigating the case. It was unclear how the child contracted the virus, according to the h...
Published: 08/13/18
CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

Florida residents seeking treatment for minor health problems can now take advantage of a new, quick, virtual service from CVS Health’s MinuteClinic.The new service, called MinuteClinic Video Visits, will provide patients with video access to health-...
Published: 08/09/18
Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

When Jackie Dube found circular rashes with bullseye points on her stomach, she went to the hospital. Doctors told her she had an allergic reaction to flea bites. A year later, she became seriously ill. Flu-like symptoms and chronic joint pain would ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

When the American Medical Association — one of the nation’s most powerful health care groups — met in Chicago this June, its medical student caucus seized an opportunity for change.Though they had tried for years to advance a resolution calling on th...
Published: 08/08/18
Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

PLANT CITY — When Kaleb French first visited therapy dog Bonnie at the library, he was too shy to read aloud to her. Instead, his mother read to the dog. Eventually, he began whispering the words to her.Now, the 7-year-old’s voice echoes through the ...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Popular blood pressure medicine made in China is recalled

Popular blood pressure medicine made in China is recalled

The Food and Drug Administration has announced a voluntary recall of a widely prescribed blood pressure medication made in China, reviving fears about the safety of imported drugs.Three companies that sell the generic drug, valsartan, in the United S...
Published: 08/07/18
Beyoncé, Serena Williams open up about potentially fatal childbirths, a problem especially for black mothers

Beyoncé, Serena Williams open up about potentially fatal childbirths, a problem especially for black mothers

Beyoncé. Serena Williams. While one is a singer and the other is a professional tennis player, there are many similarities between the women’s lives. Both are at the top of their respective fields - Beyoncé has 22 Grammy Awards. Williams has 23 Grand...
Published: 08/07/18
Patients are desperate to look like their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia.’

Patients are desperate to look like their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia.’

Remember the days when people would bring photos of celebrities to the plastic surgeon’s office and ask for Angelina Jolie’s lips or Brad Pitt’s jawline? That’s not the case anymore.Now, people want to look like themselves — heavily edited or filtere...
Published: 08/06/18