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The Straight Facts about the Risk-Taking, Social-Networking, Still-Developing Teen Brain

by Aaron M. White ; Scott Swartzwelder

Pub Date: April 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0393065800
Publisher: Norton

Health scientist administrator White and Swartzwelder (Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience/Duke Univ.; co-author, Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy, 1998) propose that behavioral changes in teenagers are not only hormonal, but due to significant changes in brain wiring and that risk-taking acts during the teen years are essential for achieving independence as well as mastering practical, social and emotional adult skills.

The authors consider common problems and some of their effects, organized by broad subjects (Teens and Their Brains, Mental Health, Food, Sleep, Driving, The Digital World, Sex and Sexuality, etc.) and further subdivided by issues such as eating disorders, the effects of caffeine and sugar, stress, pornography and others. The book is not intended as a comprehensive guide; some topics, such as social media and texting, presume access and a certain degree of affluence. In addition, the effects of particular cultures/religions as tempering moral agents that influence behavior do not come into play, resulting in a tendency for teens to emerge as subjects at the mercy of biology, though the authors are careful to note that multiple experiences and outcomes are possible. When explicating brain anatomy, the authors shine, presenting information with readable examples. When offering opinions or suggestions, however, the results are occasionally tepid or expected—e.g., considering violence and the harm that results from becoming desensitized toward it, the authors conclude with the easy summation: “It’s healthy to be appalled by violence. If playing violent video games makes kids less appalled by violence, this would be a bad thing for society as a whole.” On bullying: "Bullies and those they bully also experience other problems, not only in the present, but in the future as well.”

Valuable as encouragement for caregivers to empathize with the turbulent years, but remains uneven and not far-reaching enough as an amalgam of science and parenting advice.