WNY Family Magazine October 2018 - Page 54

lescence’ is a harmful and unnecessary product of a faulty culture, not of a faulty brain,” Epstein states. TWEENS & TEENS — by Myrna Beth Haskell Getting a Grip on Behavior Stephen Wallace clarifies, “The fact that teen brains may make young people more susceptible to poor decision-making doesn’t mean they are destined to make bad choices.” He explains that parents need to step in to provide judgment when it comes to health and safety issues, but they can facilitate a more collaborative approach otherwise. It Must be Neurological! Understanding Teen Behavior M any parents would prob- ably agree that their teen’s clothing and music choices are strange at times, but most find ways to deal with these kinds of is- sues. However, when a teen behaves like Pollyanna one moment and the Wicked Witch of the West the next, and then has the audacity to claim her mood is some- how her parent’s fault, it can be difficult to be diplomatic. Teens can be reckless, self-centered, impulsive, and impatient. It is no wonder an otherwise calm and reasonable parent can lose her cool. How does a once predictable and well-behaved child turn into an erratic and irritable stranger? Hormones might help to explain mood swings, but adolescent angst is much more complicated than that. Does the developing brain have something to do with a teen’s inexplicable behavior? It must be neurological… right? The Teen Brain Some experts point out that neuro- logical studies help explain teen behav- ior, while others claim a teen’s culture and environment have more to do with it. Phillip Zoladz, Ph.D., an assis- tant professor of psychology at Ohio Northern University, explains, “Teens are impulsive and reckless, in part, be- cause much of their behavior is guided by more primitive, emotionally-driven brain regions (e.g. hypothalamus, amyg- dala). This stems from a less than ful- ly-developed prefrontal cortex which usually governs and regulates this type of behavior. The prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until one’s early to mid 20s, which explains why teens continue to act this way until they are at least out of college.” 54 WNY Family October 2018 Stephen Wallace, an associate re- search professor and director of the Cen- ter for Adolescent Research and Educa- tion at Susquehanna University, agrees that changes in neural development can affect behavior. “During adolescence dormant cognitive order gives way to mind-numbing change as the brain liter- ally prunes itself.” This leads to “higher order” thinking skills, such as apprais- ing, predicting, and evaluating. “The only problem is that along with such transfor- mation comes a temporary slighting of the part of the brain responsible for judg- ment,” he explains. Some teens — despite their neurol- ogy — avoid typical teen turmoil. There- fore, experts have also studied how cul- ture and environment influence adoles- cent behavior. Robert Epstein, Ph.D., Senior Re- search Psychologist at the American In- stitute for Behavioral Research and Tech- nology and author of Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Tor- ment of Adolescence (Quill Driver Books, 2010), asserts that the kind of turmoil we see in teens in many Western countries is entirely absent in other cultures around the world. He reports, “New research suggests that teens who are prone to take risks may actually have brains that are more mature in some respects than the brains of more passive teens.” Epstein describes two social phe- nomena that encourage adolescent angst. The first is that parents “infantilize teens” (treat teens