Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

By Rachel Pallesen Apr 3, 2018

Brainstorm, by Daniel Siegel, M.D., is written for both parents and adolescents. It is intended to help parents understand their adolescent children – and to help adolescents understand themselves better.

It begins by debunking three myths about adolescence that we, as a society, have for the most part come to accept. One of the most powerful myths surrounding adolescence is that raging hormones cause teenagers to “lose their minds.” Hormones do increase during this period, but it is not the hormones that determine what goes on in adolescence. We now know that what adolescents experience is primarily the result of changes in the development of the brain.

Another myth is that adolescence is simply a time of immaturity. Adolescence, Dr. Siegel writes, is not a time of immaturity but should be viewed as a period for great adventure and exploring, rather than a period where teens just need to “grow up.” It is a time to develop character traits that will lead kids into adulthood.

A third myth is that growing up during adolescence requires moving from dependence on adults to total independence from them. While there is a natural and necessary push toward independence from the adults who raised us, adolescents still benefit from relationships with adults.

Instead of thinking of adolescence as an annoying phase to get through as quickly as possible, Siegel encourages us to think of the period between ages 12 and 24 as one with “the most power for courage and creativity.” Instead of seeing turbulent emotions and arguing as a negative thing, we need to recognize that our child is doing the vital work of testing boundaries, seeking independence, and trying out the unknown.

As a parent of four former adolescents, I would have appreciated this book as a resource to understand the changes in brain development during this phase of life. However, I do not share the author’s secular worldview when he discusses how to deal with social issues that face our adolescents. I was reminded that when we do not agree with accepted social norms, we need to be even more vigilant with how we interact with adolescents to help them think through the decisions they make that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

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