Jewish World Review July 23, 2004 / 5 Menachem-Av, 5764

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Some brains are on the slow train | Remember those moments of exasperation when your kids came inside with yet another grass stain, ladybug in hand and locust shell in the pocket? Remember when they wanted you to read the same book for the 10 billionth time, sing the song that would never end and needed a hug for the umpteenth boo-boo of the day?

Give yourself a pat on the back for holding it together. According to brain research, those mundane occurrences help grow language skills, math and logic abilities, emotional intelligence, artistic ability and creative flair.

Einstein would have gotten nowhere without making mud pies in the backyard. Da Vinci would have been a no-name had he not been allowed to play with his mother's kitchen utensils and the Wright brothers would never have gotten air-borne without first jumping on the bed

Give yourself another gold star for surviving the battles with your kids over music lessons. Brain experts say music sets a great foundation for intelligence. That babble game you played with infants, those tents in the backyard, sidewalk chalk, sand in the sneakers and that pathetic little clay pot of grass seed your kid drowned at the kitchen sink all helped fuel brain capacity, too.

Feeling pretty good about yourself? Great. Then just pause here and enjoy the moment. Nice, wasn't it? Now I have to tell you something that may be a little hard to swallow.

Researchers used to believe that the brain was a finished product by age 12. Done deal. Put the educational games away and forget about watching Jeopardy as the brain is pretty well complete. Well, researchers have changed their minds. They've recently charted significant developmental happenings in the teenage brain. That does explain a lot, doesn't it?

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Let's put it this way: they used to think the brain was set at age 12, but now they think the Jell-O mold is still wobbly.

How long before the brain is fully mature? Age 14, you ask? Age 16? Don't you wish. Try age 25.

Brain areas that help regulate self-control and risk-taking are some of the last areas to fully mature. So, it turns out, there's a reason many of them want to repel down the face of rock sheers, raft grade 5 rapids, function on three hours of sleep and often go a touch berserk their first year at college - their brains aren't fully working.

Naturally, this is not true of every brain. I know kids in their late teens ready and able to rule the world, although I'm not sure the world is ready for them. However, Dr.Jay Giedd, the ringleader for much of this brain mapping says, and I quote, "not only is the brain of the adolescent far from mature, but both gray and white matter undergo extensive structural change well past puberty."

Somewhere in the swirl of white and gray matter, cognitive controls are still developing in the teen-age brain.

The job of a parent is far from over when a kid becomes a teen. We're not crazy to impose some tight restrictions on drivers at age 16. Curfews for high school kids are an excellent idea, and maybe it's not the smartest move to cut an 18 year old totally free from every semblance of structure, boundaries and parental accountability. Teens need lots of love, but their brains still need some limits and rules.

The next time you're tempted to snap at a young person, "Why don't you grow up?" remember this: They are — just as fast as they can, but maybe not as fast as we thought.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of , most recently, "Pass the Faith, Please" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) and I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.


© 2004, Lori Borgman