Around the age of 13 something clicks in the children’s brain and nothing is the same as before. They become rebellious, pseudo-independent, unbearable; that is, they become adolescents. And the rest of humanity is limited to looking at them with astonished eyes and without fully understanding what is happening. Because yes, we have all been young, but that (most of the time) is not enough to understand them. Not even close to it, in fact.
The science of young brains. For the past several years, a team at Stanford University has been looking at what’s going on in the brains of children, adolescents, and young adults. Although development has been one of the favorite topics of psychologists, neurologists and educators, the truth is that until recently we did not have enough technology (or it was prohibitively expensive) to study the details of that hurricane we call adolescence.
listen from within. The team selected a sample of 46 boys and girls between the ages of seven and 16 who were about to undergo various medical tests. The idea was to take advantage of these tests to put voice recordings on them (both from their mothers and from unknown women) and see what happened to their brain activity. The results were curious: while children under 12 years of age showed a very intense neural response in the reward and emotion processing centers when listening to their mother’s voice, from the age of 13 the situation changed.
That was the average age in which the mother’s voice stopped producing that type of neurological reactions and the data indicated that Daniel Abrams, one of the researchers who have worked on this, turned away.
Is adolescence a brain disease? Judging by the dust that this study has aroused, it seems so. Seeing the results, many have begun to think that it is the brain that causes adolescents to stop listening to their parents. But that’s a misconception: brain imaging simply shows that it happens. That it is not that kids become malicious machines for ignoring parents, but rather that (in one way or another) their conditions and needs drive them to feel more interested in new experiences.
The “braincentrism” that prevails in our way of communicating psychology can end up becoming a serious problem because it disguises as “natural processes” what are actually neuropsychological adaptations to the societies we are creating. Reducing to the brain what we are finding (whether new or old phenomena) only obscures the clues that feed (and can help us solve) the problems.
In a way, as the researchers indicate, what we are seeing at the neural level is how adolescents begin to cultivate their social skills and how they begin to open up to the world around them in a new way. It is the law of life; something positive and necessary, in fact. Though I guess that won’t comfort all the parents who are pulling their hair out right now.