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The Lying Brain

The Lying Brain

Teenage BrainBrains lie.

We all know that, right? For example, the paranoid brain fabricates menacing scenarios that petrify and isolate. The depressed brain suppresses joy and deflates hope. The dementia-clouded brain suggests life should be lived in the distant past, not the present moment.

So yeah, diseased brains are deceitful; but they aren't the only ones. At times, healthy brains mislead too. They can’t help it. It’s all a part of the natural growth process.

  • Toddler brains say, “You don't need any help. You can do it all by yourself.”
  • The brain of a middle schooler says, “Every single thing in your life is of equal importance: the grade on a test, the well-being of your grandparents, and whether or not your crush likes you. It all matters the same.”
  • Teenaged and young adult brains say, “Ignore the warning,” and “It won’t happen to you,” or “That doesn’t apply to me.”

All of the above normal thought patterns come with their share of inherent dangers, but it is the last one that is the most lethal. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, even though “. . . young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, . . .  death[s] by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14.”[1]

Harvard neurologist and parent Frances Jensen began studying the adolescent brain when her two sons were teenagers. She explains, “Nature made the brains of children and adolescents excitable. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment. After all, that's what makes kids learn so easily.” [2] So it’s normal. Scary, but normal.

See the brain is not fully developed until we are in our mid to late 20’s. And the part of the brain that recognizes risk, the frontal lobe, is the last to grow up. That’s why we do such stupid things in high school and college. Because our brains are literally too immature to know any better.[3]

If we're lucky, by the time we are in our 30’s, we look back on our ideas and impulses of previous decades and cringe. We're embarrassed, maybe even humiliated. We wish we could go back in time and tell our teenaged selves that risk is real and warnings are for a reason.

But, you know what? Our adolescent selves wouldn’t pay any attention to our overly-cautious, bossy, controlling adult selves. That’s because teenaged brains are too busy misconstruing reality.

  • “Go ahead and send that text while you are driving.”
  • “You don't have to wear a helmet.”
  • “Lifejackets are for wimps.”
  • “You aren't too drunk to drive.”

Lies. All of them.

So parents, let’s stop the blaming and name-calling and understand that when our teenagers are acting irresponsibly, it’s because their brains are just doing what comes naturally.

And teenagers: you can't always trust your brains. You really can’t. So do this. In potentially dangerous situations, defer to someone whose frontal lobe is fully developed. Occasionally you might miss something fun. But at least you’ll live to complain about it.







[1]"The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction." NIMH RSS. The National Institute of Mental Health, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/index.shtml>.

[2] Knox, Richard. "The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468>.

[3] Spinks, Sarah. "Adolescent Brains Are Works in Process." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html>.

Margaret's magic ice trays

Published May 27, 2013

margaret laughingb-001

“Hang on a second, Margaret, I just need to fill this ice tray. In fact, why don't you watch how I do this?” I turned on the tap, held the tray under the running water, turned the water back off, and returned the tray to the freezer.

“Done. And in a few hours, that will become ice!” (My youngest daughter should have known this by now—she's 15 after all.)

Before you ask, let me explain. We don't have an ice maker. Our house is older and though we've tried a couple of times, we just can't get an icemaker to function properly. Years ago, we gave up and reverted to good, old-fashioned, ice trays.

Now, I love ice in my drinks.  I've said many times, “If you get me a cup of ice, you'll be my favorite child!” This rule applies to my own children, nieces and nephews, kids at church, and, okay, perfect strangers. I like my ice. And so does Margaret. Only Margaret is in the habit of returning empty or nearly empty trays to the freezer without refilling them. This, I'll admit, is a tiny little problem in the realm of parenting. But still.

Margaret watched my ice-tray-refilling lesson with bored disinterest. “Okay,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, her eyes already starting to giggle, “But I've found that if you just put the trays back empty, they eventually refill themselves.”

Stupid Mama Syndrome

Parenting Teens: Stupid Mama Syndrome

Mothers of pre-teens! Know the signs! You are bound to get it soon. But hear the good news--I've experienced a full recovery. If I can beat this, I  know you can. It's only a matter of time!

First published when I had three teenagers living under one roof: mine.

I should have expected it. I remember my own mother going through it when she was parenting teens. She was about my age . . . . No, she was even younger than I am . . . of course, she started having children at a younger age than I did. No matter, I still thought I could delay it a little longer. But I might as well own up to it. I am after all, parenting teens (three of them at that) and the symptoms are undeniable.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Yep. Stupid Mama Syndrome (SMS).

My mother, bless her heart, was plum pathetic when I was a teenager. My sister, born two years before I was, reported that the SMS came on our mom a couple of years before I turned 13. But to be honest, I just didn’t see it. I was about 15 when she was at her worst.

Back when my mama was parenting teens, I had to explain everything to her. Like when I finally got my driver’s permit (I had to wait until I was 15—so not fair). As long as my mama went along in the passenger seat, I could take the wheel. Listen, that poor woman had SMS so bad, she could not begin to teach me how to drive. I had to correct her over and over again. (If it hadn’t been so aggravating, it would have been downright sad.) Frankly, it’s a good thing I could drive then, because with her so sick with SMS, I would’ve been afraid for her to get out in traffic.

Mother suffered with SMS up until I went off to college when she made an almost miraculous recovery; though, come to think of it, my younger brother did report SMS flair-ups back at home. She must have kept her symptoms pretty well under control when she was around me, though, because after I left home, she started making a lot more sense.

Today, at this stage of her life, Mother has more than beaten her SMS: she’s positively thriving. Even my teenagers can’t see any evidence that she once suffered from such a grave case of Stupid Mama Syndrome.

This must be encouraging for them. I know it is for me.

Why are we counted as cattle? Why are we stupid in your sight? Job 18:3 NRSV