The Teenage Brain, by Dr Frances E. Jensen & Amy Ellis Nutt
What is the book about?
Jensen, a neurologist and parent, offers a revolutionary insight into how parents (and indeed anyone who deals with adolescents) can understand why smart teenagers often do stupid things. Rigorous yet accessible, Jensen touches on a wide range of topics and warns parents of teenagers’ increased vulnerability to stress, drugs, risk-taking and sleep deficit.
Why read this book?
Jensen explains that teenagers are not an “alien species”, but instead are often just misunderstood. Using enough terminology to give parents a grounding in neuroscience but not too much scientific jargon, Jensen presents findings from a subject that until recently was relatively unexplored and dispels widespread myths about teenagers. Key to this is helping parents understand that the teenage brain isn’t just “an adult brain with less miles on it”, but instead “very much a puzzle awaiting completion”. The message from Jensen is clear; whilst the poor behaviour often demonstrated by teenagers should not be ignored or excused, much of it is influenced by an underdeveloped brain.
Who is this book for?
This book is primarily written for parents but would be useful for anyone who deals with adolescents on a regular basis. Adolescents may also benefit from reading this book as it would help them better understand their own behaviour, and how it can be influenced by changes in their brain.
Using a wide range of scientific evidence, this book aims to give the reader a better understanding of the adolescent brain and will help parents cope better with the changes their adolescent is going through.
The book does offer some good news for parents by explaining the high levels of plasticity that the teenage brain offers, which means that skill acquisition and the learning of new information is not as difficult as in adulthood. Learning involves the creation of new connections between brain cells, and these connections can be strengthened much more easily and at a faster rate during the teenage years.
However, the bad news for parents is that, because teenagers are so well-equipped to learn, they are “exceedingly vulnerable to learning the wrong things”. This means parents are often left wondering why their teenager constantly makes risky decisions and never seems to think things through. However, this book offers some answers and attributes teenagers’ risky decisions, not only to their desire to activate the reward areas of the brain, which causes dopamine to be released, but also to underdeveloped frontal lobes that are inefficient at impulse control.
Jensen also warns parents as to how teenage biology makes them more vulnerable to stress. In addition to this, the book answers some of the questions surrounding teenagers and sleep deprivation. Melatonin, a hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy, is produced in adults around 10pm, but is not produced until around 2 hours later in teenagers. This offers some explanation as to why teenagers often stay awake late into the night and struggle to get out of bed early in the morning. If we add this late production of melatonin to teenagers’ need for 8-10 hours sleep (where adults need 7-9 hours) and the constant mental and physical changes in their bodies, it is no wonder that many suffer from sleep deprivation.
This book is suitable for all parents, as no prior knowledge of the brain is needed to understand the simple but evidence-based information. Jensen also uses a number of diagrams that further the reader’s knowledge or help explain the evidence given in the text.
However, as this book is so detailed and packed full of a wide variety of information, it is thick and hence difficult to take with you whilst on the go. This also means that it is time consuming to read and therefore, for those parents looking for a quick and less detailed way of understanding the teenage brain, may not present the optimal choice.
Jensen makes this book extremely timely by highlighting teenagers increasing vulnerability to mobile phone and internet addiction. For many teenagers, technology can be addictive as it provides novelty and reward, which makes them feel good. Jensen also discusses teenager’s susceptibility to the myths surrounding multi-tasking. Many teenagers believe that multi-tasking is a viable strategy during their homework and revision; however, Jensen suggests that it interferes with learning and causes homework to take between 25% to 400% more time.
The book contains a wide range of historical information regarding the teenage brain. Whilst this information is interesting, it does seem to be a little too extensive and could somewhat distract the reader from the main message of the book. Instead, advice on how to deal with the problems the teenage years present would be a welcome addition.
Value for money
The book is available at £14.99. For a book of this quality, and with such a large range of topics, this feels very generously priced.
- Scientific basis – packed full of evidence-based information, giving parents an improved understanding of the teenage brain.
- Helpful – parents can use this book to have important conversations with their children that could lead to real and significant improvements in their behaviour
- Accessible – this book is well written and will be useful for parents from a whole range of backgrounds. Diagrams are also included where applicable to aid explanations and understanding.
- Timely – addresses some of the most prominent issues in modern day society e.g. teenager’s increased vulnerability to mobile phone and internet addiction.
- Length – it is not suitable for parents looking for a quick read
- Heavy on the detail – the book contains extensive historical information, which does not aid understanding of the teenage brain. It also includes countless anecdotes and cautionary tales of reckless teenager behaviour but these seem too extreme or rare to act as deterrent
Overall, this is a brilliantly written book that is both interesting and an enjoyable read. The book gives parents a better understanding of their teenager’s behaviour, and reading this would also help anyone who works with adolescents communicate with them more effectively.
If you have already read this book or are looking to expand your knowledge of the teenage brain further, we would recommend reading:
- An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education, by Tony Little
- Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
- Get Out of My Life: The bestselling guide to living with teenagers, by Tony Wolf and Suzanne Franks
If you have limited time and are looking for something shorter and less comprehensive to read, why not try some of our blogs? Here are a few suggestions: