This is a short post about what could be a big subject. [Do I hear sighs of relief? Enough already! :-) ]
There’s a fascinating article in the latest Scientific American MIND:
Scientific American Mind: The Teen Brain, Hard at Work
Under challenging conditions, adolescents may assess and react less efficiently than adults
The Big Endians argue that there is such a thing as a teen brain, distinct and different from an adult brain, that these differences can be seen by fMRI scans of prefrontal cortex activity, and that endogenous behaviour control begins to win in its battle with exogenous behaviour control as the adolescent grows into a mature adult. That this maturing process involves synaptic pruning and more efficient use of prefrontal cortex resources over time.
The Little Endians argue that this is pure hogwash, that all these differences are culturally and environmentally triggered, that the entire Big Endian argument is a Sell More Psychoactive Drugs campaign.
And somewhere in between they’ve figured out that the brain stays pretty much the same size from the age of six or so.
I am not a neuroscientist, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Just an interested amateur. But the whole debate intrigues me greatly, since it has significant implications for how we deal with education and how we deal with Generation M.
Of course there are physical and physiological and hormonal changes going on, this is not in doubt. What I am intrigued about is whether there are significant changes in the brain, other than that we would call learning and adaptation.
So I ask myself, “Is it possible that teenage angst is a function of the environment and culture rather than age? That the “teenager” finds himself (or herself) asked to behave “like an adult”, while amongst a heap of adults who patently don’t “behave like adults”. And it is this that causes the angst.”
I ask myself “Is it possible that adults could have the multitasking high-speed responsive cognitive abilities that “teenagers” exhibit, if only they hadn’t had their synaptic pruning and endogenous behaviour control kicking in?”
I ask myself “Have we perpetrated a con on ourselves, force-fitting a unnecessary teenage phase into everyone’s lives by defining such a phase, then describing all the painful consequences of that force-fit as “what teenagers do”?
And finally I ask myself, “Is Generation M different because they were the first Western generation to refuse to accept the con? Did Generation M hold on to the different ways of handling the prefrontal cortex, did they refuse to allow synaptic pruning, did they somehow avoid some of the conditioning and anchoring and framing that previous generations did in the name of Growing Up?”
Update: Let me try and frame all this a little better. Is it possible that children stop asking why because they get told “because I told you so?”, and that some of this shows up as “synaptic pruning” ? Is it possible that everyone has the cognitive and multitasking abilities that Generation M portrays, but that these abilities are “conditioned” out of existence? Is it possible that the videogame and MMOG generations have held on to some abilities that prior generations have lost? Is it possible that something in what we call “maturing”, as endogenous capabilities override exogenous, actually loses some of these innate capabilities?
Hope that helps people understand where I’m coming from. In no way am I challenging the physical growth stages, these are obvious. What I seek to understand are the mental changes from a neurological sense rather than from what we term education.
Just musing. As I try to understand. Comments welcome.