A professor of paediatric neurology at a famous American university and hospital and also a mother bringing up two teenage boys alone, Frances Jensen passionately advocates sharing what the research evidence tells us about the adolescent brain – ‘a work in progress’- in order to forewarn and forearm parents negotiating troublesome issues.
Among the perils discussed are internet addiction and misuse of social media, mental illness, alcohol and drug taking, risk taking and crime. These themes are backed up by facts and statistics and illustrated with anecdotes about personal acquaintances or cases that have made headlines. The forearmed parent is better placed to take preventive action, advises Jensen, whether it be putting a lock on the home drinks cabinet, making a timely phone call to another parent about teen supervision, and educating themselves with the evidence and facts to counter a teen’s argument that this or that substance or activity is perfectly safe.
The book seeks to buttress a parent’s confidence in their role, with the knowledge that teens need their guidance and appreciate it more than they realise. The thrust of the book is on preventing problems before they happen, so does not go into options and treatment once a problem has escalated beyond a parent’s expertise.
Although the book is titled ‘The Teenage Brain’, the topic covers development up to the mid twenties. The last chapter is a discussion about the world of the ‘emerging adult’, the 20 to 24 year old. During this age of exploration, instability and self-involvement, big improvements have been made in learning skills, organisational ability, multitasking, insight, judgement, abstraction and perspective since leaving the teens, making it a great time to learn, whether formally or on the job. This is a cheerful thought to end the book on, in that even if things go off track during the teen years, there is a window of time and opportunity to catch up.