Championing moody adolescents
Rencontre avec la neurologue britannique spécialiste du cerveau adolescent.
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-