If there were a mandatory parenting course for people about to have children, The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen, M.D. (with Amy Ellis Nutt) would be on the required reading list. Since my oldest child recently turned 13, entering into the tumultuous and terrifying teen years, I came across this book at the perfect time. Highlighter in hand, I pored over every page, hoping to glean a little insight into the minds of my daughter and her friends.
The sub-heading on the cover of The Teenage Brain reads “A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.” While that might sound more than a little intimidating, don’t be put off. While covering everything from brain development to the effects of alcohol, tobacco and drugs on the adolescent brain, Jensen keeps her audience in mind – namely, that we aren’t all neuroscientists. I will admit that there were a few passages throughout the book that lost me a little bit, but by and large it is written in such a way that makes a difficult, complex subject easy for the layperson to understand.
Jensen’s premise is that if we, as parents, are armed with scientific knowledge we can relay to our teens, we can help them understand what is going on, quite literally, in their heads, and therefore perhaps curtail some of the inevitable angst of this age group. At the same time, learning about the very real shortcomings and advantages of teen brains will help us parents be more patient with our kids as they struggle through these often difficult years. A little compassion goes a long way, and this book will help parents gain a perspective that affords them that vital empathy.
The main topics covered in The Teenage Brain include sleep, and its neurological effects, teen propensity for risk taking behaviors, the effects of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, hard-core drugs, and stress on the adolescent brain, teen mental illness, effects of the digital age on the teen brain, gender differences, concussions, and how to view teens from a legal point of view when it comes to crime and punishment. Each subject is discussed in depth, with many charts and graphs for those readers who appreciate a visual representation of the data.
I would like to thank Dr. Jensen for this new and indispensable addition to my permanent book collection. Over the next several years, as all of my children go through their teen years, I expect to refer to The Teenage Brain often, scanning over my highlighted passages and re-reading other parts more thoroughly as the need arises. Parents of teenagers everywhere should be reading this book.
Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.