Last September, I attended a live production of the NPR show Talk of the Nation, which featured National Geographic magazine writer David Dobbs and several experts on the developing teenage brain. Dobbs’ article “Beautiful Brains” featured recent science that probes deep into young minds and shattered some of the pervading myths about them in our culture.
Dobbs and the expert scientists he interviewed explained that it’s not so much that teenagers are “stupid,” as some would have us believe. He said their thinking patterns tend to differ from adults in specific ways, and that those differences may actually give them some advantages in terms of later evolutionary fitness.
I won’t go into all the science here (read Dobbs’ wonderful prose), but the gist of it is that teens need some risk-taking and detachment to propel them out of their parents’ house and into the wide world, where they can make their mark. Unfortunately, we can’t all be “stay-at-home sons” like Zach Galifianakis in the Hangover movies, as tempting as that sounds.
And the reason teens are so susceptible to peer pressure? It may be that they are learning to develop socially, which in turn will make them more successful down the road (at least if historical trends prove true in our highly social species).
Of course, science and evolution are fine topics of discussion, but what should a concerned parent of a 16-year old do if he or she asks for the family keys? Throw in a cell phone and texting plan, and it gets even scarier.
This infographic made by Nowsourcing for Teen Tracker covers some of the numbers around texting and teen driving. By now we’ve probably all seen the TV commercials about the problem. So what should parents and lawmakers do?