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Are Teenagers’ Skulls Really Thick?

2011 December 16


“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” my mom asked me hundreds of times growing up.

This is the perennial question every generation of moms asks of their teenage and pre-teen kids; most of the time the kid answers “Yes” and it is considered a smart aleck response. But is it?

After all, if all of my friends were jumping off a bridge, I would have to deduce that there was some kind of trick to it. If I could figure out what the trick was, or one of my jumping friends explained it to me, common teenage etiquette would dictate I jump as well.

Now, something that a moment ago seemed so reckless actually isn’t so reckless after all.

This view is supported in an October 2011 National Geographic article, “Beautiful Brains” by David Dobbs, accompanied by the excellent photography of Kitra Cahana.

The author relates how his son was cited for driving 113 miles per hour, for which he readily took responsibility, but balked at being cited for reckless driving because, in his view, it wasn’t accurate!

“Reckless makes it sound like you’re not paying attention. But I was. I made a deliberate point of doing this on an empty stretch of dry interstate, in broad daylight, with good sight lines and no traffic… I was really focused” (page 42).

According to the author, teenagers are not driven by conseqences, but by rewards. In other words, your teen is more likely to do something “crazy” for the apporoval of his peers, than to refrain because you told him it was dangerous.

My cousin Robin and her husband Greg made a contract that with their two children. Rather than saying, “If you bring home poor grades you’re grounded,” the deal is that if they bring home good grades and save money for a car, their parents will match the savings dollar for dollar.

The reward motivates their teens to do well in school by paying attention and studying; to get a job and keep it by being dependable and working hard; and to be a thrifty about money. And they’re paying for half of their own reward!

So, what is the answer to the question, “Are teenagers’ skulls really thick?”

The answer is: Yes!

By age 6 our brains have grown to 90% of full size. Between age 12 and 25 the brain runs through a reorganization of itself. Note that the “teenage” years actually run up into the mid-twenties. The additional head size is due to the skull thickening as we grow.

So while your teen may have a thick skull, if she’s still growing it’s not as thick as yours!

Photo: “KP 08” by Ryan Arestegui

2 Responses leave one →
  1. December 17, 2011

    I read this article quite a while back regarding teen brains and why they take the risks they do. Turns out the part of the brain that really warns us about danger has not fully developed in teens. They may intellectually understand a danger but they can’t fully appreciate the danger. That’s why they do stupid stuff — whether it’s something that’s really physically dangerous or something stupid that could get them in trouble.

    BLT 🙂

    • December 17, 2011

      Hello Blog Log Lady T! 🙂

      Yes, it is a fascinating article; the National Geographic back issues pop up at Half Price Books stores frequently. If anyone else is interested the cover reads “The New Science of the Teenage Brain”. The title is a little deceptive because it’s not that new.

      The one criticism I had was delving into the written version of stock evolution footage; it seems we can insert that almost anywhere. It’s like, “We developed spoons because of …. and this evolutionary change allowed us to eat cereal.”

      I do recall your point from the article and I’m glad you brought it up, as a kind of addendum. I had tried working that in the first three versions of this (this edition you read is the 7th), but you know my concern about word count and not attempting to make too many points in one piece. So I limited it to rewards vs. consequences.

      Thank you for reading… Kent

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