The Myth of the Teen Brain: A Q&A with Dr. Epstein
- Friday, August 24, 2007
The Home School Legal Defense Association publication, The Court Report, asked Dr. Robert Epstein to share more about his views on the teen brain, and about his new book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (Quill Driver Books, 2007). In his book, Dr. Epstein argues that teens are being shortchanged by the academic institutions and legal systems of American society today, and he explains why and how teens should be given adult rights and responsibilities based on their individual abilities.
Home School Legal Defense Association does not endorse all of the views Dr. Epstein expresses—in his book and in the following interview. Some of the conclusions he has reached based on his research you may find shocking, and some might challenge your thinking. But his basic argument supports our belief that our children are better off not being immersed in the teen culture, that they are better off being socialized by adults, and that our children are able to do more at a younger age and be more responsible than our modern American culture permits.
Court Report: How did you become interested in the topic of the teen brain?
Dr. Robert Epstein: I initially became interested because one of my older sons, at age 14 or 15, was very mature. And I was curious why he was forced to go to high school, why he was not allowed to work, why he was not allowed to own property, to sign contracts, and so on. He had a good business sense, for example. He would have loved to have started a business, but he wasn’t allowed to do much of anything by society.
That got me interested in teen capabilities in general. And the more I looked into it, the more I found that teens have enormous capabilities that we seem to have forgotten about as a culture. In many ways, they’re far superior to adults—in their memory abilities, in intelligence, and in their perceptual abilities, for example.
Then I couldn’t help but notice these headlines—one after another after another—about the so-called “teen brain.” I said, “Wait, this doesn’t seem right—that teens have a brain that necessarily causes them to be irresponsible and incompetent. That can’t be right.” Teen turmoil is often entirely absent in other cultures, so a universal “teen brain” can’t possibly exist. When I looked carefully at the research said to support the idea of a teen brain, I found nothing there. Claims of a teen brain constitute scientific fraud, in my view.
You argue that instead of the teen brain causing teen turmoil, the cause is actually society, and in part, the peer influence found in public schools. As a psychologist, what is your definition of socialization?
Socialization is just a process by which we learn to be part of a community. So the question is, what community do we want our young people to learn to be part of? Some parents have said to me, “Aren’t school and high school, in particular, very important for socialization?” And my emphatic answer is no, because we do not want young people socializing with each other. We want them to learn to join the community that they’ll be part of their whole lives. We want them to learn to become adults. Right now, they learn everything they know from each other—that’s absurd, especially since teens in our society are controlled almost entirely by the frivolous media and fashion industries.
If you look through most of human history or you look at many cultures today, you find that teens spend most of their time learning to become adults. Here, they spend most of their time trying to break away from adults.
What advantages do you think homeschooling could offer teens over the current school model?
Well, individualized learning is extremely important, and so is having some distance from teen culture. Homeschooling can certainly create some distance from teen culture. It can create more meaningful contact with adults. It can individualize instruction. It can be a platform for accelerating maturation. All those things are possible with homeschooling, and they’re all impossible in most school systems.
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