The Marvelous Teen Brain: Counterfeit


There are real and meaningful ways to respond to our brain’s hunt to grow up—we’ve just often been satisfied with artificial ones.

I recently blogged on the adolescent brain. I suggested that brain research over the last decade has enlightened those of us who work with middle school, high school or college students. At least it should. The brain is developing between ages 12-25 in new ways that prepare a person for adult life.

This new research helps us understand a teen’s predisposition toward four pursuits:

  1. Excitement – Doing something for the thrill of doing it.
  2. Novelty – The hunt to find and express their unique identity.
  3. Risk – The pursuit of unfamiliar territory with unknown outcomes.
  4. Connection – The exploration of social interactions with peers.

In light of this, I posed the question: if the adolescent brain desires to explore these four outcomes in order to mature and prepare for life on their own—what have we done in our culture that has stunted their growth? Why is it that, according to the Baltimore Sun, 80% of students return home after college? I’m sorry. I don’t buy the fact that it’s merely the economy. 80% represents a huge population.


I think we, as parents, teachers, coaches and youth workers, have failed to equip them for adult life. Consequently, they’ve found counterfeit ways to appease the desire for excitement, novelty, risk and connection. Allow me to suggest a few:

  1. Excitement – Instead of leveraging this pull to explore new opportunities to use their skill sets, many satisfy it with a tattoo, a nose ring, or riding roller coasters.
  2. Novelty – Instead of discovering their unique strengths and contribution at work, many satisfy this desire by wearing bizarre clothing or coloring their hair.
  3. Risk – Instead of taking meaningful risks that prepare them for adulthood, they satisfy this desire in video games, reality TV or vicariously living via the paparazzi.
  4. Connection – Instead of moving out into face-to-face relationships where they can get burned, many satisfy this need on-line, through Facebook and social media.

Please understand. I’m not suggesting any of the above counterfeits are bad. I am on Facebook and I love roller coasters. I’m simply saying there are real and meaningful ways to respond to our brain’s hunt to grow up—and we’ve often been satisfied with artificial ones.

I know this could be controversial. What do think? Are we failing to grow up because of counterfeits?

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