There's research to back up this claim!
The common adult complaints about teens is that they're overdramatic. Angsty. That everything seems like a big deal. That they take too many risks. That they don't properly think through things, that they act on impulse. That they rebel just because.
I hear a lot of adults dismiss teens--and teen concerns--and teen fiction--this way.
They're missing something kinda important.
Here are some truths:
- Human brains don't reach full maturity until the third decade of life. What I mean by "maturity": all the connections in the brain are formed, and those connections are working at optimum speed.
- As a result, teens have to work harder to engage the "executive functioning" regions of their brains (the ones in charge of planning and impulse control). The thing is--they CAN do it, and often as well as adults can, but it's not as automatic.
- And here's the one that fascinates me: Teens accurately evaluate risks and are aware of their own mortality--but they value the relative rewards in risky situations more than adults do.
Evolutionary theories would suggest that it doesn't make sense for humans to have this dangerous and faulty period in their development. Although it's easy to look at death rates--young people die disproportionately in non-work-related accidents--and conclude that's true, it's important to think about it more deeply than that. What do teens have to do? They have to separate from their parents. Create new relationships and find romantic partners. Forge independent identities.
How could they do that if they didn't highly value the rewards of those risky activities? How could they accomplish the things they're supposed to do if they didn't reach out? Why would they want to if they didn't feel the powerful need to seek new and stimulating experiences?
Yes, it makes it hard to keep them safe. Yes, it means being a parent of a teen can be a heart-stopping--and sometimes heart-breaking--experience. No, it does not mean we should just let teens do whatever they feel is right, because understanding where the boundaries are is an essential part of development into adulthood. But if adults understand that adolescence is not just a developmental stage to endure, but a phase that is imperative for successful transition into adulthood, we might be more respectful of our teens and value their perspectives more.
National Geographic has a brilliant article about all of this in October's issue. It is a MUST read for writers of YA, and for adults who want to really understand teens (instead of dismissing them as naive or immature young people).
Are you a teen, or are you the parent of a teen? Have you heard people dismiss or complain about teens this way? Are you one of them? What do you think of these research results, and their interpretation?