“What’s going on in there?: ‘Very smart adolescents will do very stupid things in a very impulsive way,’ says Frances E Jensen.Several years ago Frances E Jensen’s 16-year-old son wrote off a car. A few years earlier, her other son had returned from a friend’s house with his hair dyed jet black. The University of Pennsylvania neurologist was finding her teenagers’ erratic behaviour increasingly taxing, so she decided to study teenage thought processes and gathered her research in the book The Teenage Brain. She found that while much had been written about teen psychology and parenting, no one had explained the neurons and cerebral connections that make those years such a unique – and terrifying – part of growing up. The teenage brain has only recently become a subject for serious research, which shows how little was known about it. But does knowing what is going on in a teenager’s brain make them any easier to live with? Without a doubt, says Jensen, who thinks that her research allowed her to be more patient with her sons. “We expect a little bit more out of adolescents than we should, given where their brains are,” she says. Given that the relationship between parents and teenagers is one of the most fraught in family life, the novel starts to ask and answer questions that I am sure we have all asked at some point in our children’s teenage years.
Clothes left in the bathroom, losing things, plates festering under the bed… Why doesn’t my teenager care about being tidy?
Why does my daughter always seem so angry, especially with me?
I feel increasingly cut out from my teenager’s life. Why won’t they talk to me properly?
Why won’t my teenager go to bed, and why can’t I get them up in the morning?
My teenager doesn’t seem to care about school at all. Why are they so uninterested in doing their homework, and how can I motivate them to study?
Should I worry about my teenager drinking or dabbling with drugs?
Why can’t my teenage children leave their smartphones alone, even at the dinner table – surely Instagram can’t be that interesting?
How can I look after my teenager’s mental health
My child loves playing video games. What effect do they have on the teenage brain?
spoken version of the article