Cham­pio­ning moo­dy ado­les­cents

Ren­contre avec la neu­ro­logue bri­tan­nique spé­cia­liste du cer­veau ado­les­cent.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Râ­leurs, sus­cep­tibles, égoïstes... les ado­les­cents n’ont pas bonne ré­pu­ta­tion au­près des adultes. Pour­tant, cer­tains de leurs com­por­te­ments ont une ex­pli­ca­tion scien­ti­fique, et c’est du cô­té des neu­rones qu’il faut cher­cher. La neu­ro­logue Sarah-Jayne Bla­ke­more, spé­cia­liste du cer­veau ado­les­cent, s’est don­né pour mis­sion de ras­su­rer les pa­rents in­quiets et de faire évo­luer les men­ta­li­tés. Elle nous ex­plique tout sur les rouages de cet or­gane si par­ti­cu­lier.

An­nual me­dia co­ve­rage of Au­gust’a*s exam re­sults has tra­di­tio­nal­ly confor­med to an un­writ­ten rule that all pho­tos must show eu­pho­ric tee­na­gers ce­le­bra­ting mul­tiple A*s. This year, the images [told] a dif­ferent story. Ra­di­cal re­forms to GCSEs [pro­du­ced] di­sap­point­ment. 2. Sarah-Jayne Bla­ke­more looks ba­re­ly ol­der than a tee­na­ger her­self. The award-win­ning pro­fes­sor of cog­ni­tive neu­ros­cience at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don is, in fact, 44 and has made the stu­dy of the ado­les­cent brain her life’s work. She has been cri­ti­cal of the ve­ry exis­tence of GCSEs, ar­guing that they im­pose “en­or­mous stress” on tee­na­gers at a time when their brains are going through huge change.

A PER­IOD OF NEUROLOGICAL CHANGE

3. “Un­til about 15 or 20 years ago,” she says, “we just didn’t know that the brain de­ve­lops at all wi­thin the tee­nage years.” Un­til then, it was as­su­med that tee­nage be­ha­viour was al­most en­ti­re­ly down to hor­mo­nal changes in pu­ber­ty, and psy­cho­lo­gi­cal ex­pe­ri­ments have now found that ado­les­cence is a cri­ti­cal per­iod of neurological change, much of which is res­pon­sible for the unique cha­rac­te­ris­tics of ado­les­cent be­ha­viour. Far from being a de­fec­tive or in­fe­rior ver­sion of an adult brain, the ado­les­cent mind is both unique and – to Bla­ke­more – beau­ti­ful.

A SENSE OF SELF

4. Bla­ke­more likes to talk about her work by beginning with a quote from a tee­na­ger’s dia­ry da­ted 20 Ju­ly 1969: “I went to arts centre (by my­self!) in yel­low cords and blouse. Ian there but didn’t speak to me. [...]” What may look to us like jaw-drop­ping self-ab­sorp­tion is, she ex­plains, in fact es­sen­tial neurological de­ve­lop­ment, be­cause the bio­lo­gi­cal func­tion of ado­les­cence is the crea­tion of a sense of self.

5. Teens achieve this through crea­ting new al­le­giances, in­de­pendent of their pa­rents – which is why their friend­ships sud­den­ly be­come so vis­ce­ral­ly im­por­tant. What is known on so­cial me­dia as Fo­mo – fear of mis­sing out – may look like an ir­ra­tio­nal sense of prio­ri­ties. But when no­thing mat­ters more than the ap­pro­val of their peers, “That brings with it a hy­per­sen­si­ti­vi­ty to being ex­clu­ded by friends”.

6. It is this hy­per­sen­si­ti­vi­ty to so­cial ex­clu­sion that chie­fly, she says, ex­plains ado­les­cent risk-

(Istock)

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