As a book study for the summer, my colleague suggested we read The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about our Kids by Barbara Strauch. We are both teachers of high school students. For the most part, our students are 14 and 15. They are right in the middle of this adolescence range.
I read this in the frame of mind of trying to learn more about how to help my students. I was trying to figure out why students were struggling, and how to change the learning in my class to support them.
What I found in this book was an intriguing mixture of ideas and science. Based on the fact that new research shows the pre-frontal cortex, among other parts of the brain, are renewing development and changing immensely in these years, there is a multitude of ways to look at the reason young people do what they do. Does this provide all the answers? No. But understanding the brain and its new changes can certainly help us, all, to think about how we interact.
This book is written in a fascinating way, with many anecdotes I’m sure parents of teenagers would nod their heads while reading – my little one is still years away from this developmental stage. For this reason, I do feel many parents with teenagers that seem oddly out of character or seem destructive or seem to have retreated, should read this book.
Even teenagers may find solace in the research and discoveries presented in the book. Helping them to understand the reasons that they choose to do some risky behaviors might help them to develop and make different choices as they grow. I’m also considering using one of the chapters on alcohol and drug use as teenagers in my anatomy class (which I’ll be teaching for the first time this year), this chapter could be a great Socratic seminar for discussion with the young people.
I feel, as an educator, it was also beneficial to read. The book certainly made me think about what I’m asking my students to do on a daily basis. It made me think about ways I can better support their learning.
The last few chapters of the book are definitely much more conversational in their tone and easier to read for summary ideas – they also deal with a few heavier topics including alcohol and depression (to name a few of the topics discussed). I did find many of the early and middle chapters dense. Strauch packs her chapters full of research, which at times can be hard to read without feeling a little overwhelmed by the complexity of the content. But overall, I felt the book was worth the research of all the research.
I’m excited to use the insight gleaned from this book in the upcoming school year. Hopefully, I will be more helpful to my students who are struggling not only academically but personally and socially as well. For that reason, I hope others who are involved in guiding the adolescence have time to read this book as well – parents, counselors, teachers, etc. could all learn a little something about the new science in changing and developing teenage brains.