The Myth of the Teen Brain

I liked this blog from: (see below) the pdf from Scientific American Mind is interesting as well. In particular the point of the positive correlation between the extent to which teens are infantilized and the extent to which they display signs of psychopathology. One of the biggest learning’s I got from Jeff Leiken ( who specialises in working with teens is the importance of treating teens as adults. Jeff is running a workshop in the UK, near London, the EmPOWERed Life for Teens on the 29th June to 1st July. You can call Des on 01923 267107 or email: or look at: for more. Here’s the blog post from Anastasia: “This morning I interviewed Dr. Robert Epstein, who I”ve blogged about before (and who commented on Ypulse) for the white paper I’m writing for New Paradigm. We got into a conversation about all of the recent brain research that basically argues that teen brains are different, or that the prefrontal cortex, which is also the “impulse control center,” is under construction, which is allegedly why teens are impulsive, risk-taking, and quick to anger. Epstein says hogwash, not true — he believes the brain scans being used in a lot of this research are being misinterpreted by researchers (and definitely by the media). He wrote an article for Scientific American Mind (.pdf) to debunk what he considers to be “The Myth of the Teen Brain.”

I’m going to grossly over simplify his arguments (you should read the article), but in a nutshell, he believes that most of the brain changes that have been observed in teenagers are part of a continuum of changes that happen throughout our lives. He also believes the current research is “correlational” vs. “causal” and does not show that what is being observed in the brain scans causes the problems we see in teens — it’s just associated with certain behaviors and emotions.

The heart of his argument and big question is whether the brain causes turmoil or whether turmoil alters the brain? Epstein believes much of the turmoil is caused by how the culture treats teenagers. By creating a separate teen culture through our educational system (high school), marketing and entertainment (MTV, teen movies/TV, etc.), and now with technology where teens are literally in their own digital worlds as well as imposing endless rules and restrictions on teens (according to his research, they have twice as many rules as active marines), we have created teen turmoil. He says it doesn’t exist in non-western cultures where teens are more integrated with adults and treated as such, and that it’s this separate culture where peers simply take cues from each other that leads to such poor decision making and emotional “teen” angst.

Finally — he thinks the reason this research is being so warmly embraced and accepted is because:

The drug companies have a strong incentive to convince public policymakers, researchers, media professionals and the general public that faulty brains underlie all our problems — and, of course, that pharmaceuticals can fix those problems. Researchers, in turn, have a strong incentive to convince the public and various funding agencies that their research helps to “explain” important social phenomena.

I agree with the need to treat teens more like adults and that teens and adults need more contact with each other. I’m consistently impressed and amazed with the teens I get to interact with through my work. But the Ypulse in me still loves teen culture — heck, we all do or it wouldn’t be dominating our entire popular culture. It’s hard for me to get down on John Hughes movies or Degrassi and blame this stuff for teen angst…And really, isn’t it more of a reflection of teen life vs. creating it? If we abolished high school back in the 60s, there would be no “Breakfast Club” or “Fast Times.” I would love to here what readers think of all this — both the science and culture around being a teenager. I just have a hard time thinking that the time teens spend hanging out together without adults is completely worthless or all bad as is the culture that reflects this…

P.S. You can take Epstein’s test to find out if you’re really ready to be an adult…”