Most readers of this blog would be way too young to know of the famous murder-for-no-reason done by a couple of rich Chicago teens, Leopold and Loeb, back in the 1920s. I knew about it because my dad told me the story with some personal interest since the case was broken by the identification of eye-glasses found at the murder scene—specs identified by my dad’s childhood optometrist.
I reference it here because it was called the “crime of the century” and Clarence Darrow argued against the death penalty for the young killers. It comes to my mind because of the relationship not between Leopold and Loeb (they were lovers), but between Lobe and Loeb—more precisely the frontal lobe of the brain.
Here’s a link that a friend sent me, a recent NPR piece on the teen brain. If you’re parenting a teen it’s worth the five minutes to listen.
The gist of it is that the frontal lobe of the brain (the part that is capable of asking, “is this a good idea?”) is not very well connected to the rest of the brain in teens. The thing that makes it better connected is myelin, a sheathing that makes the neural pathways faster and more effective. This process starts to kick-in around ten, which is an interesting taste of first angst in many a kid (see Ten-year-olds and their changing brains for more on that), but the brain and its frontal lobe connections don’t really reach full maturity until our twenties.
The practical implication for parenting teens is that they are developmentally rude, surly and prone to terrible judgment. The NPR piece discusses a neuroscientist and how her wisdom helped guide her unruly and judgment-impaired teens through Goth waters. The piece touches on how the excitable brain of the young person is great for new learning, and yet also especially prone to addiction (which is a form of learned and reinforced behavior).
Other brain implications for teen development include the value of sleeping after studying, rather than pulling an all-nighter—because the info moves from short-term to long-term memory while we’re sleeping, infallibly enhancing performance on tests, attests Dr. Jensen’s (the neuroscientist) son.
Having bridged the troubled unmyelinated waters and now doing great in college, the kid says of his brainy mom, “I think she’s great! I would not be where I am without her in my life!” Not much more we parents could aspire to hear and hang-in for.
So, let’s dedicate today to loving the teens in our lives, and using our more fully connected frontal lobes to out-love them and their bad attitudes and piss-poor judgments. Sometimes I think it’s our entire culture that’s not yet myelinated… education, health-care and Wall Street being ample evidence for our teen-minded country’s lack of good judgment and true compassion. But we don’t want to give up on what our Founding Mothers and Fathers had in mind for us, we just need to hang-in and grow up—connecting with each other, in the service of all our collective kids.