Every adult has gone through adolescence, and studies have shown that if you ask people to look back on their lives they will disproportionately recall experiences they had between the ages of ten and twenty-five. (This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence bump.”) And yet, to adults, the adolescent mind is a mystery—a Brigadoon-like place that’s at once vivid and inaccessible. Why would anyone volunteer to down fifteen beers in a row? Under what circumstances could Edward Fortyhands, an activity that involves having two forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor affixed to your hands with duct tape, be construed as enjoyable? And what goes for drinking games also goes for hooking up with strangers, jumping from high places into shallow pools, and steering a car with your knees. At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there’s something wrong with their teen-agers’ brains. Which, according to recent books on adolescence, there is.
Frances Jensen is a mother, an author, and a neurologist. In “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” (HarperCollins), written with Amy Ellis Nutt, she offers a parenting guide laced with the latest MRI studies. By her account, adolescents suffer from the cerebral equivalent of defective spark plugs.