Introducing my viewpoint
I promote a clear, current, scientific and evidence-based understanding of what makes adolescence “special”, somewhat different from both childhood and adulthood. Adolescence means “becoming adult” and important changes enable that transition. It’s a natural, positive, temporary (!) and biologically-driven stage, which is, of course, affected by culture and environment but is not caused by them.
Of course, teenagers are also humans just like the rest of us. Also, of course, they are different from each other: some go through adolescence more easily than others. But the science is clear (and my work covers this): a set of experiences, behaviours, chemical and brain changes happen during this period, which are identifiable as natural features of adolescence, despite individual and cultural differences. We accept that certain things happen in brain development, making newborn babies different from toddlers, and toddlers different from nine year olds; similarly, development in adolescence, usually starting between 10 and 12, sees the brain mature into a state in which independence can eventually happen. It’s a good thing!
It helps to understand some of the details of this. It helps adults who live and work with teenagers and it helps teenagers themselves. My book, Blame My Brain, has been enormously popular in many countries around the world, both with adults and the teenagers for whom it was written.
RESOURCES ABOUT THE TEENAGE BRAIN
My own book, Blame My Brain – the Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, was first published in 2005 and has been updated twice since. It is widely read all over the world, not only by the teenagers it was written for, but by parents, teachers and other professionals. It is recommended on reading lists at universities and on teaching and social work courses, and by schools, and is one of the UK’s Books on Prescription, along with The Teenage Guide to Stress. Below is some of the research on which it is based. There is now an enormous body of work from around the world showing many ways in which brains change during adolescence.
My later book, Positively Teenage, is much broader, covering not only brain changes but all the social changes that make life different for 10-18 year-olds compared to children and adults. It promotes a positive view of adolescence and is empowering and reassuring.
Seminal work by key researchers
- Jay Giedd, who first identified adolescent brain changes in the 1990s: Interview: pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/giedd.html
- Another interview: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/2011/giedd.shtml
- “Brain development during childhood and adolescence – a longitudinal study”: https://web.stanford.edu/class/cs379c/archive/2013/suggested_reading_list/supplements/documents/GieddetalNN-99.pdf
- “The Teen Brain: Primed to Learn, Primed to Take Risks” http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/2009/The_Teen_Brain__Primed_to_Learn,_Primed_to_Take_Risks/
- Adolescence as cross-cultural and universal is discussed here, https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1113&context=orpc, including reference to Schlegel and Barry’s 1991 research on 170 cultures.
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
- Her research is presented here: https://sites.google.com/site/blakemorelab/ See particularly: “Decision-making in the adolescent brain”
- There is an interview here: https://www.edge.org/conversation/sarah_jayne_blakemore-the-adolescent-brain
- Her TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain
GS Hall’s “Storm and Stress” theory https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201309/storming-adulthood – “Adolescence is a time of trauma and upheaval, storm and stress.”
- “Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered” – The abstract is fascinating and I agree with it: “ S. Hall’s (1904) view that adolescence is a period of heightened “storm and stress” is reconsidered in light of contemporary research. The author provides a brief history of the storm-and-stress view and examines 3 key aspects of this view: conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risk behavior. In all 3 areas, evidence supports a modified storm-and-stress view that takes into account individual differences and cultural variations. Not all adolescents experience storm and stress, but storm and stress is more likely during adolescence than at other ages. Adolescent storm and stress tends to be lower in traditional cultures than in the West but may increase as globalization increases individualism. Similar issues apply to minority cultures in American society. Finally, although the general public is sometimes portrayed by scholars as having a stereotypical view of adolescent storm and stress, both scholars and the general public appear to support a modified storm-and-stress view.” http://webspace.pugetsound.edu/facultypages/cjones/adoldev/arnett.pdf
“How does the teenage brain work?” – Nature: faculty.vassar.edu/abbaird/about/press/articles/Nature2006.pdf
“Why parents may not matter as much as peers” – Scientific American: scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=parents-peers-children
Some articles on specific subjects
Sleep – See below under Teenagers and Sleep
- Tests for matching emotion to expression: autismresearchcentre.com/arc_tests (Scroll down to “Eyes tests”)
- Emotion & risk-taking – “The Adolescent Brain” nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2475802/
- Greater sensitivity to reward/risk: com/releases/2004/10/041030131905.htm
- Teenagers take more risks but it’s not that they can’t foresee consequences: com/releases/2010/03/100324211144.htm
- Teenage decisions are often not decisions but impulsive: Meg Gerrard sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070531093830.htm
- “… in the presence of peers, the brain’s reward regions light up more than …” onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.14677687.2010.01035.x/abstract
- Dangers for teens: com/2006/07/04/health/04teen.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 and: npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122765890
- S-J Blakemore on adolescent sense of self, embarrassment and peer influence: org/conversation/sarah_jayne_blakemore
- S-JB’s research re social embarrassment: google.com/site/blakemorelab/recent_publications
Some of my other writing on this topic
“How do I understand my teenage boy?” https://www.nicolamorgan.com/heartsong-blog/how-do-i-understand-my-teenage-boy/
A video interview (from 2011) in which I talk about the teenage brain at the (very noisy) Edinburgh Book Fest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=qGb0QOkeWhs&NR=1
RESOURCES FOR POSITIVELY TEENAGE
I mention lots of resources in the book and I’ve put a selection here
General resources for young people
Agnes – the life guide for girls. I think this is an awesome site and I wish I could find something for boys: agnesforgirls.com/
Health for Teens: www.healthforteens.co.uk
Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens
General resources for parents
The Parenting Place: www.theparentingplace.com/ (NZ)
School A to Z – (Australian) It covers all ages but the sections on Wellbeing and on Home and study could be useful for parents of teenagers: www.schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au/home
Your teenage body
Aimed at girls: www.girlshealth.gov/body/index.html
Aimed at boys: www.youngmenshealthsite.org
Aimed at all: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/puberty/Pages/puberty-signs.aspx
Media Smart has a brilliant resource aimed at boys but also useful for girls: mediasmart.uk.com/resources/teaching-resources/body-image-1
PBS Parents on raising a girl with positive body image: www.pbs.org/parents/parenting/raising-girls/body-image-identity/raising-a-girl-with-a-positive-body-image/
Kids Health for teenagers: kidshealth.org/en/teens/body-image.html
Kids Health for parents: kidshealth.org/en/parents/body-image.html
Quiet Power: Growing Up as an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – a book aimed at young people, parents and schools, especially focusing on being an introvert in school
The Quiet Revolution website, with advice and stories for introverts and extroverts on how to appreciate our quiet sides: www.quietrev.com/
A good and detailed look at what it means being introverted or extroverted: www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/opinion/introvert-extrovert-what-does-it-mean-20160463230
This is a nice interview with Susan Cain, aimed at parents of introverted teenagers, but I think there’s lots in it for young people, too: http://yourteenmag.com/family-life/communication/susan-cain-introverted
Feeling shy – a couple of reassuring looks at shyness and social phobia:
A useful webpage with advice directed at young people, from Child and Youth Health: www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=243&np=293&id=2198
Build a growth mindset
Matthew Syed’s TED talk encouraging people to acknowledge failure and confront mistakes to promote progression:
Carol Dweck talks about “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”. Both these pages are aimed mostly at adults, with the second one particularly at teachers: http://big-change.org/growth-mindset-research-2/ and www.mindsetworks.com/science/
Notice “what went well”
Here’s a link to Martin Seligman’s “Three Blessings” exercise.
On the Action for Happiness website there is a great set of resources and ideas.
Healthy weight and BMI: kidshealth.org/en/teens/bmi.html
Healthy eating, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/healthy-eating-teens.aspx and from Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/food-fitness/
Be active (many more links inPositively Teenage)
From the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx and from Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/exercise-wise.html
The Brainflux website details many benefits to exercise and links to research for each, including improving willpower, concentration, memory and sleep: thebrainflux.com/brain-benefits-of-exercise/
Some links to research about sedentary behaviour from this NHS page: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/sitting-and-sedentary-behaviour-are-bad-for-your-health.aspx
World Health Organisation guidelines: www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_young_people/en/
Ideas for exercising without going to a gym or playing organised sport, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/Getfitwithoutgym.aspx
Sleep Well (many more resources about the benefits in Positively Teenage)
From Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/tips-sleep.html?WT.ac=p-ra
Aimed at parents, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Childrenssleep/Pages/teensleeptips.aspx
Aimed at teenagers and including sections on nightmares and bad dreams, from Young Minds: youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/sleep-problems/
National Sleep Foundation webpages for teenagers: sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep
Distraction – A really good article aimed at teenagers on Teen Ink: www.teenink.com/hot_topics/what_matters/article/781313/Digital-Distraction/
Ideas to help us all manage screen time well: healthykidshealthyfuture.org/5-healthy-goals/reduce-screen-time/resources/ and from the BBC: www.bbc.com/future/story/20131010-lose-the-phone-reclaim-your-life
UNDERSTANDING TEENAGE STRESS
(For strategies see the section of my website called WELLBEING and STRESS MANAGEMENT)
Are teenagers more stressed than adults? Impossible to say and pointless to try to measure. Adults have some different stresses – but we should have learnt good techniques so that we don’t suffer from stress. That is where my story comes in: I was a stress-suffering teenager and adult until well into my forties, losing time and energy to stress-related illnesses. I was not coping. Now, I’m exactly the same sensitive, introvert, perfectionist, ambitious, afraid-of-failure and anxiety-prone person, but I do not suffer from stress. I have stress but I don’t suffer from it: in fact, I welcome it. What happened? I learnt some things about stress, changed some behaviours and now have a strong system of preventing becoming ill. That’s what I want to share with people of all ages and I’m focusing on teenagers because I want them to have the knowledge that I lacked.
The Teenage Guide to Stress – written for teenagers but equally useful for adults; everything about stress, what it is, what your stresses might be, strategies for stress management for life
The Teenage Guide to Friends – written for teenagers but equally useful for adults; explaining why friendships and people are so important and yet so complicated; helping young people understand those around them and how to manage relationships and understand why they go wrong
My teaching materials, Brain Sticks, contain a section on teenage brain changes and this would be the ideal way to teach this to young people. Brain Sticks also include a mass of material about teenage wellbeing and stress and how to make our brains work best.
Websites to help you
These sites have extensive, quality advice on a range of topics.
- Young Minds: youngminds.org.uk
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-parent-teen/201512/teenage-stress
- NSPCC: nspcc.org.uk
- Family Lives: https://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/teenagers/health-wellbeing/
- Kids Health: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/stress.html
My book, Body Brilliant, deals in detail with this, tackling the (fascinating!) psychology as well as practical tips for both a better body image and a healthier body. You’ll find resources for this on the Body Brilliant page here. There are free teaching notes and various downloadable and printable extras.
TEENAGERS AND SLEEP
Teenagers need more sleep than adults, biologically. Everyone is a bit different and most of us manage on less than the ideal amount but the ideal amount for teenagers is 9¼ hours. And they probably won’t get it on a school night! If you are thinking, “Excellent: I can make them go to bed earlier,” think again: we can’t fall asleep for the night until our brain switches on the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy, and teenage melatonin tends to switch on late at night, as for adults. (Even worse, it tends not to switch off again so early in the morning, so teenagers are still very sleepy when it’s time to get up.)
Getting the best possible sleep is extremely important for almost every aspect of mental health and physical wellbeing, including performance and function at work/school. So, we have to do what we can to improve sleep – ours and theirs. Luckily, there are really simple things that will help and none of them involve taking medication. You’ll find the start of that good advice below, under Sleep Hygiene”. You will also find a Tips For Sleep sheet in the “Additional” part of my Resources section.
Go to my blog and put “sleep” in the search box.
- Parent-set bedtimes help: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3098947/
- Screen use: com/national/health-science/blue-light-from-electronics-disturbs-sleep-especially-for-teenagers/2014/08/29/3edd2726-27a7-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html
- Carskadon’s research: edu/xd/health/services/doernbecher/research-education/education/residency/upload/Sleep-in-Adolsescents-2011-Carskadon-PED-CLIN-NA.pdf
- Experiments with starting school later: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/23/health/la-he-school-time-20100823
- BBC sleep deprivation survey: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22209818
- Bad sleep affects health http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21572686
- Sleep deprived teenagers and Sleep Scotland http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-23811690
- Dreamland – Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David Randall
- Night School – by Richard Wiseman
- Why We Sleep – by Matthew Walker
I hope you have found this selection of resources useful. Remember they are only starting points and there are many articles and resources in the rest of my website, my books and teaching materials. Do ask me to come and speak to your audience: See the Speaking section of my website.