Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I received an interesting link the other day from a colleague here in Worthington. Part of me thinks I received this link because she read my blog about Abstinence Only classes, but also we’re both members of the Worthington Area Youth Ministry Association, which teaches part of a lesson in the High School and Middle School sex education class. Maybe it wasn’t just a friendly prod.

Anyways, the full article is here. And actually, nothing about the sex/abstinence aspect of this article really struck me given the source. But the parts that did strike me, are the parts where they talk about a teenager’s development. More specifically the female teenager’s development:

Georgene: You mentioned that students are being told they have certain rights that relate to their sexuality. One of the things that they’re not taught is what neurobiologists are now saying about the brains of young people. The presumption has been that they’re fully capable—that they’re really just little adults—and they have the capacity to think through the implications and consequences of their actions when, in fact, neurobiologists are telling us otherwise.

Grossman: Absolutely correct. Parents and kids need to be made aware that this is not happening in sex education because it goes against their agenda of sexual freedom. The biological truth is that the teen brain is immature—in particular, that area of the brain that makes rational decisions. It will take until they are well into their 20s for that area of the brain to fully mature. So teens more than ever need the guidance and the rules that adults will place before them. In my research, I found that rental car companies and auto insurance companies have known this for years. Auto insurance rates go down after the age of 25, and you can’t rent a car unless you are at least 25, and this simply reflects the common-sense wisdom that younger people do tend to make irrational decisions, especially when they are in highly stimulating situations.

Now, I’m not disputing Dr. Grossman’s claims, or that she’s wrong (she is the Ph. D., I’m not). But I DO find it a little confusing when we hear reports of the adolescent longevity stretching to age 28, but then read books that talk about the origins of the terms “Adolescence” and “Teenager”.  We are left to believe that the whole ideal and understanding around these terms is some sort of social pigeon hole, which only leads to low standards. So we think, “Okay, treat them like adults. It’s how it was done 100 years ago.” But then we get studies like Dr. Grossman’s and we are led to believe that, “They’re not mentally capable of adult responsibility, treat them differently.”

But there’s also more questions; could it be that the adolescent brain doesn’t develop as fast because the youth generation is only challenged by low expectations? Could it be that the mere act of labeling a person a “Teen” or “Adolescent” gives us a reason to treat them differently and not hold them to high expectations; thus ultimately delaying neurobiological development? Could it be that our society has systematically and passively set our teenage generations up for failure due to how adults treat them?

If 100 years ago people were considered adults based on how they looked, given full family responsibility, and didn’t end up crazy head cases, then what happened between then and now? What’s different? It would seem to point to the lowering of expectations, which causes delayed development.

So my question is: how do we approach our youth with the understanding that they are not mentally developed to handle adult-sized responsibility without lowering and limiting our expectations? Or maybe they ARE capable of handling adult-sized responsibility and it’s up to us adults to guide them through it. Please discuss, let’s shoot for more than 5 comments!



Shelley said...

In my experience with working with children, if a child is told they are incapable of achieving something, they believe it and a) quit trying, or b) use it as an excuse. I've experienced that with children of elementary age who have told me straight to my face that they don't have to settle down because they are "hyper" and are incapable. I've also seen teenagers who know enough to "work the system"....they know that if they "misbehave" in a certain way, they will be put in special classes where they don't have to work as hard, or they'll be pulled out of class, etc. Granted, there are kids that do require these avenues....but I've seen enough kids who are well aware of what they're doing and "work the system". Personally, I don't think all teens are as underdeveloped as we think they are....I think everyone (including adults) get into the realm of thinking "it won't happen to me"....not only sexually, but through all the trials that life has to offer. I've worked with a teen who grew labeled "slow"....hard to concentrated and stay on task. We would just tweak how we taught her, and she would actually blossom. Then, we were told that we couldn't expect her to do certain things...she wasn't mentally capabale (when she had already achieved them). She quit trying, and now had her excuse. I'm not a specialist...but I know what I have observed with the children I've worked with.

Betsy said...

Good discussion.

I think that it is both. (Is that even fair to put into this discussion?) I do not think that there is a magical age that, POP, brain function is up to adult par. Granted, I have met many stupid adults, and many adults who are smart, but cannot reason. And much of that is due to culture and education, and what level of logic they have been exposed to.

I do think that teenagers cannot fully reason until a later age, but that doesn't mean that our expectations of them should be lower. Our ideals of "performance" can be the same, whether or not they fully understand that level of performance until later in life.

Brittney said...

Yeah, I agree... I mean, my mom was engaged by 18 and married by 19. A LONG time ago people were considered adults even younger, like you said. I think, in general, people of that age are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for, we just hold them to lower expectations.

P.S. Where do you get these hilarious cartoons? Nice.

Sam said...

I was told that I would get a cookie if I came to this blog. Soooo, feel free to send that on anytime. You have my address.

Betsy said...

Sam's held to lower expectations, I see. hahaha ;-)

KaGe said...

I'll give you all the free internet cookies that you want...