My wife and I shared a common objection as teens. She’d make requests of them repeatedly but get no response. Our daughter and her son weren’t hearing impaired nor had they ever suffered from a processing disorder. It appeared that they were able to hear selectively.
- Many times, they didn’t hear the words. “Clean up your room” Oder “Put your dishes in the sink.”
- They often Did Hear the words “we’re getting ice cream” Oder “Going to Disney World”.”
Similarly, educators tell me that their students often don’t hear instructions accurately three months into the semester. It’s as if they are tuning in and out of discussions. We often attribute it to teenage rebellion or teenpathy, whether at school or home. During those strange years of adolescence, students can rebel against the norms they’ve been taught. A new study has revealed that there is another thing happening in students’ brains as they age. Parents and teachers need to be aware.
What the Current Research Says About Teen Brain
Percy Mistry, a Stanford behavioral researcher, conducted functional MRI scanning of teen brains. During the scans, they played recordings of the participant’s mother and other voices the participant did not know. A similar study was conducted earlier on children between seven and twelve years of age. They hoped to discover how a child’s brain might respond to these voices, depending on their age.
What did they discover?
When the younger children’s brains identified their mother’s familiar voice, it triggered all sorts of responses beyond merely hearing, including reward centers and emotion processing regions.
However, the brains of teenagers responded in a different way to being studied. Intense curiosity and intrigue triggered a stronger response in the teenager brains to unfamiliar voices. The teen brain was more apt to process rewards and assign social value to new voices than the familiar ones.
According to the researchers, this helps teens connect with other people and improve their social skills. As teens mature, their brains naturally pay attention to new voices. It’s a way for them to grow up and become their own person. It could be rebellion. They may be becoming their own person.
How can parents and teachers use neuroscience to guide their children?
What can we do to stop this from happening?
Recognizing this fact allows caring adults the opportunity to harness the power of the teen brain to communicate with valuable, but unfamiliar voices. Teachers will often have an unfamiliar voice and communicate important values to their students. As our children reached their teens, we developed close relationships and trust with their teachers. One attended my daughter’s birthday party. One of my son’s teachers came to several of his community theatre shows. These connections were a tremendous help.
We were a group of united adults investing in our teenagers. It takes a village to make it happen.
We arranged for a group of mentors when our children turned 13 years old. We chose six women to serve as mentors to our daughter that year. We chose people she was interested in learning more about and whom her parents believed to be wonderful role models. In short, she thought they were “cool,” and we respected their lifestyle. These voices were unfamiliar to her, and reinforced important messages in her daily life. They were able communicate with her the key values she had learned, but felt less effective in relaying those messages during her formative years.
My son and me participated in a father-son group for over a year. Five dads and five brothers, all aged 13 years, met with important people, including an athlete and business owner, coach, pastor, military officer, and football coach. Once again, the interactions were meaningful and fresh to the ears and minds of those boys, even though their messages usually echoed the life lessons they’d heard in their earlier years.
Our children were still in their teens when we organized trips to take them to meet someone who was in the same profession as they were. They were able interview these adults and glean from their knowledge and wisdom. They became “spot mentors” for our kids as we utilized their voices to reach our teens.
Their brains are already alert to new voices so why not make the most of it? What’s most satisfying? This reality can be experienced from both sides. My kids were able to see me as a mentor for young people and a teacher for them. One day my daughter surprised and joined me in a discussion. Later, when I asked her why she listened in, she explained, “I guess I’m listening because I noticed that my friends tell me they like you, and they listen to you. I don’t want to miss out on what they’re getting.”
Let’s not miss this developmental milestone in students’ lives. Let’s leverage our village.