Researchers discover what mothers already know

July 19, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

RESEARCHERS watching the adolescent brain as it sorts information and emotions have concluded that it doesn't work the same way as the brain of, say, its mother.

Deborah Yurgen-Todd, a research scientist at McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Belmont, Mass., says teen-agers process emotions more intensely and indiscriminately than adults. And they don't do very well with information, either.

Once again, medical science states the obvious.

If researchers wanted to know if teen-agers process emotions more intensely and indiscriminately, they didn't need to scan their brains. They could have dropped by my house anytime and watched emotions intensely and indiscriminately tossed around like hand grenades.

Door-slamming, walking off in a huff, muttering belliger-ently, arguing about nothing, tears, sullen withdrawal. We've set new standards for emotional overreaction in our house.

And if researchers wanted to know if the reason teen-agers don't follow instructions is because they are not hearing what you think you are saying, they could have checked with me on that score, too.

Or any of my fellow mothers of teen-agers, who scrupulously edit the directions they give their kids for any vagueness, any loopholes, any omissions, only to hear excuses that begin with "But you never said ..."

The only good news to come out of this research is that - even though teens are hypersensitive and can't execute a simple set of instructions because their brains are as immature as their behavior - apparently, their brains will mature, and they will begin to think and act more like their parents.

But you knew that, too, didn't you?

You knew that by the age of 25 or 30 - younger if you withhold the car keys on weekends - your kids will start to see the wisdom of what you have been saying all along. You know this is true because you are parroting your own parents in ways you swore you would not: objecting to your children's friends, their study habits and their clothing, for starters.

Yurgen-Todd also found that teens could not always correctly identify the emotions in pictures they were shown.

"This may explain in part why adolescents produce incongruous responses to emotional stimuli," she says.

This may also explain the origin of this exchange:

"Why do you always look at me that way?"

"What way?"

"You know what way."

Yurgen-Todd says her work may comfort parents who worried that their teens were being rebellious or stubborn. Or that they were just plain stupid.

Apparently their brains, like the secondary sex characteristics that also give their parents pause, are not finished growing and changing.

"Instead of assuming that they are young adults and fully formed in terms of their brain function," she said, "it means that we probably need to assume they are not always understanding what we are telling them and they may not appreciate the consequences of their behavior."

That's good news to those of us who feared our children would put their hands into every flame, never learning that they would be burned.

No. This news is no news to the parents of teen-agers. We live this stuff.

But it might cause a light to flicker on in the heads of teen-agers.

Most of them think it is our brains that aren't working.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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