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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005 06:32 am

Pubescent enlightening

Author helps parents understand their teenagers

Teenagers sometimes do the darnedest things. And whether it’s smoking dope or setting fire to the dining-room table, parents have the darnedest time figuring out why their teens do the wacky, or self-destructive, things they do. Thumbing her nose at previous theories on teen mental health, Barbara Strauch, medical-science and health editor of the New York Times, provides a radical new approach to understanding kids in her book The Primal Teen. Neuroscientists, Strauch says, have discovered behavioral similarities in the period between childhood and adulthood — otherwise known as adolescence — in human beings, our fellow primates, and rats. This behavior has traditionally been blamed on the hormonal changes that take place during puberty. However, in something of a departure from traditional theories, Strauch writes that physical changes in the brain during the teenage years account for many puzzling behaviors. She shows how the brain constantly rewires itself throughout adolescence but often misfires. “Kids are exploring. They’re attracted to exploration even if it’s goofy,” Strauch says. Strauch, who has two teenage daughters, says that “variety, exploration, and not doing one thing over and over again” are the best means of stimulating brain growth.
Because the brain changes so rapidly and so often during adolescence, Strauch says, risk-taking behavior such as binge drinking can cause serious long-term damage. In fact, she says, the human brain does not does not settle down until about age 25. “If you think back to what you were doing in your early twenties, in many cases — and it’s true with me and many people I know — we were doing stuff but we weren’t necessarily thinking of the consequences long-term,” Strauch says. One important lesson, Strauch says, to be gleaned from her book: “You shouldn’t give up on any kid because their brain is still changing. What you see in front of you at age 18 or 19 is not a finished product. They may look like adults, but they are not adults.”
Strauch joins a panel of doctors, child-health advocates, and policy experts 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St. Registration costs $25. Afterward, Strauch signs copies of her book.
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