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Posts Tagged ‘adolescence’

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The human brain. Image from Gray's Anatomy, via Wikipedia Commons

One of the things we think about often as teachers is the development of the teenage brain. Hopefully what we learn about the brain informs our practice in some way, and can help us to reach each learner in class. If you have a teenager at home, you might also think about what’s going on inside his or her brain every so often, for different reasons than learning!

This National Geographic article by David Dobbs, “Teenage Brains,” takes a fascinating look at the development of the adolescent brain. Dobbs addresses natural selection, the tendency towards risk taking in teenagers, the benefits of such behavior, and the need for development of social connections (which are often related to risk taking in some way). It’s a complex field, for sure, but one that is shifting its approach in understanding why the brain works the way that it does. It’s not so much the idea that adolescence is to be survived in spite of the sometimes maddening tendencies of the teenage brain, but rather it works because teenagers are transitioning towards a world separate from their parents, and while their brains are still developing, important things are happening.

From the article, regarding the reasons for why the brain works the way it does:

Selection is hell on dysfunctional traits. If adolescence is essentially a collection of them—angst, idiocy, and haste; impulsiveness, selfishness, and reckless bumbling—then how did those traits survive selection? They couldn’t—not if they were the period’s most fundamental or consequential features.

The answer is that those troublesome traits don’t really characterize adolescence; they’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger. As B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, puts it, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

Give it a read.

Teenage Brains by David Dobbs. National Geographic. October 2011

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