Brain Trust



This just in: scientists have discovered that teenagers are crazy.

Okay, you knew that, and I knew that, and anyone who's ever been like, totally within 10 feet of, like, a teenager, omigawd, soooo knew that.

But this is news to researchers. All right, all right, to be fair, what researchers have actually discovered is that humans experience a surge in brain development during their teenage years. What happens is that there's a huge increase – almost overproduction -in the number of potential brain pathways and neural connections during the early teen years.

As the teenager gets older, connections that aren't used much die off, resulting in a normal brain by the early 20s. Researchers say this means as your teenager tries to sort through all these possible feelings, thoughts and emotions, they are crazy, at least temporarily.

If true, this has tremendous implications. For instance, it goes a long way to explaining why teenagers think they know everything.

It also means that how your teenager turns out as a person has a great deal to do with what he or she is exposed to during these crucial years. One obvious worry is drugs and alcohol. Things like cocaine use and heavy drinking as a youth mean that your child could end up in the street, or worse, the White House one day.

But less obvious are other activities that have become cultural standards for Western teens. What neural pathways will die while others flourish during this critical stage? Consider the following pastimes and potential resulting career paths in adulthood:

• Drinking too much soda pop, a drink which is considered to be bubble-headed, tasteless and bad for you: A reality TV show producer.

• Computer hacking, which sometimes involves violating security regulations, stealing vital information, and misleading people for profit: An Enron executive.

• Surfing the Internet, particularly heavy use of instant messaging: SOME1 hu wiL hav a v sht ATTN span & hu wiL not b getin a PhD n eng writiN.

• Playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and watching the TV show Charmed, which is full of scary, potentially corrupting things like demons and wizardry: A multi-millionaire author of children's fiction.

• Spending countless hours at the mall, constantly moving from store to store, but never actually accomplishing much or buying anything: A corporate cubicle worker with Internet access.

• Being a member of the chess club, the math society or the computer science association, and spending hours and hours staring at a screen, not socializing much or getting much sunlight or exercise: Billionaire owner of a software company. Or Nobel prize winner.

• Watching movies like The Fast and the Furious, or TV shows like The Osbournes and Survivor: See dictionary definition of 'vegetable.'

• Being the always popular captain of the football team and dating too many cheerleaders: A shoe salesman and father of eight teenagers living in Goobies, Newfoundland.

• Playing video games after school, on weekends and for the whole of summer vacation: A member of the Cyberathlete Professional League, making the mortgage payments with money won in Quake tournaments.

• Watching the show or movie Jackass: A Darwin Award winner. Also known as a sad statistic.

• Eating a diet consisting almost entirely of burgers and nachos: Either a born-again fitness guru by age 30 or another type of sad statistic.

• Watching too many music videos: Someone with an even shorter attention span.

• The teenager who sat at the back of the bus watching the mayhem, ducking spitballs, reading obscure news items and jotting down notes in her journal: A humor columnist.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.

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