Tag Archives: discrimination against teenagers

stop making assumptions and inferences about teenagers based on their brains

i’ve posted about teenage brains more than once. there’s been an good amount of research on teenage brains in the past decade, thanks to the MRI. there’s also been an explosion of more popular articles that infer teenagers are the way they are because of their brains, and we shouldn’t expect them to… (make good decisions, exhibit wisdom, control impulses, set priorities, act responsibly, or any other of a long list of adult-like behaviors).

this has really started to tick me off.

but two articles in the last few months (neither is new) have pushed back a bit:

this article in the huffington post, called “the teenager brain: debunking the 5 biggest myths“.

and, a fascinating article that many of you have probably already seen, published in national geographic, suggesting an alternative (evolutionary) possibility of why teenage brains are weak in certain controls and functions.

the article mentions some of the unhelpful conclusions being drawn by others:

They act that way because their brains aren’t done! You can see it right there in the scans!

This view, as titles from the explosion of scientific papers and popular articles about the “teen brain” put it, presents adolescents as “works in progress” whose “immature brains” lead some to question whether they are in a state “akin to mental retardation.”

but it goes on to suggest an alternate view:

B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, puts it, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

here’s what rubs me (and i’m borrowing this from dr. robert epstein): there’s a not-so-subtle discrimination against teenagers, MASSIVELY feeding extended adolescence, in this age-old discriminatory equation —

presence of a particular physical characteristic
alongside, the presence of a real or assumed set of behavioral realities (or biases)
means, the first results in the second

let me remind of a few places we’ve seen this before:

  1. women’s brains are smaller, on average, then men’s. for centuries we were sure that women did not have the intelligence for business, voting, public office, and a variety of other intelligent functions. the smaller size of women’s brains were PROOF!
  2. jews and people of african decent were said to have certain character traits (or lack certain character traits) due to physiology (surely, you’ve all seen the nazi drawings of a typical jewish face and head, with an explanation as to how it explains the stereotype).

i think we’re seeing the same equation play out in terms of teenagers today.

the assumption is (and it’s a BIG leap in logic): teenage brains prove what we’ve always assumed, that teenagers are incapable of wisdom, good decisions, and responsibility. the obvious (!) next step is: we should treat teenagers like children (infantilization) and remove all responsibility, keeping them “safe.”


youth workers, don’t tollerate this faulty logic. don’t tollerate this discrimination. let’s be counter-cultural on this stuff — let’s INCREASE responsibility and opportunities for wisdom and choices and prioritization and impulse control.

instead of discriminating against teenagers, let’s give them opportunities to be the apprentice adults they have the full capacity to be.