Primal Teen


Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
A couple of months ago, I went to a day-long conference for teen librarians. One of the presenters talked about teens and the changes their brains are going through, some of which I already knew and some of which was revolutionary for me. The presenter mentioned this book as a good source for more information, so of course I immediately logged into my library app on my smartphone (don’t you just love technology?!) and requested it, and have been slogging through it ever since.
Honestly, the only deductions are because this book is now 13 years old, so who knows how the science has advanced in the intervening time, and because I’m out of practice with reading nonfiction, especially science-based nonfiction. I was mostly able to follow the sciency bits, but got bogged down sometimes. Strauch includes lots of narrative about individual teens which is well done and helps break up the technical stuff while also illustrating it. She covers a lot of different areas where we might see changes in teens’ brains manifesting as particular behaviors. As a librarian who works with children and teens, I would have appreciated a little of “and then here’s how to deal with it,” though this was not at all what Strauch claimed to accomplish; rather, she aimed merely to present the facts and best theories (as they were in 2003). I was surprised at how much of this supposedly still-developing behavior is still present in many adults I know, but that’s maybe a topic for another book! (However, Strauch passed away last year, so sadly we will not see an updated version of this book. She did publish a 2010 book about adult brains, if you’re so inclined.)
The most interesting chapters to me were on just how much the teen brain develops during adolescence, including an explanation of the myelination process that helps them learn to make good decisions and not react from the gut and also learn to read social cues and emotions and not take everything personally. She also discusses sleep cycles (with a good healthy discussion on why schools should start later, a particular pet issue of mine) and the effects of nicotine and alcohol on teen brains (basically, people are likely to get much more addicted to nicotine if they start smoking as a teen than as an adult, because of teen brain development; alcohol is similarly worse). Teens’ brains are taking all the possible things they could need to learn to do in their environment and, by doing them over and over and strengthening those synapses, they are fine-tuning their brains and basically making them less plastic and adaptable and therefore capable of being responsible adults in whatever type of society it turns out they’ve ended up in, which is never a given at birth and which has also changed over time since caveman times and needs.

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