The Myth of the Teen Brain: A Q&A with Dr. Epstein
- Friday, August 24, 2007
Have you tried your ideas of treating young people more like adults on your own children?
I can see this working on a daily basis with my two youngest children. It’s amazing. (I hadn’t worked all this out with my two older boys, but even they are pretty responsible young men.) I used to get my kids up in the morning and serve them breakfast, pack their lunches, and so on. Now, they get me up in the morning; they take turns on alternate days. They make their own breakfast, and now my 6-year-old tells me she wants to start packing their lunches. The message I give to them every single day is, “You can do it. I’ll help you, I’ll show you how. Now show me what you can do.” My 8-year-old now helps me do audio editing for my radio show. He loves it, and he’s faster at it than I am!
The only thing that troubles me is, again, that I’m facing a society which is not going to work with me on this. That’s why, as I say, I’m looking very seriously now at homeschooling. But that will only help somewhat; it’s not the whole solution.
What’s the typical reaction you get from adults who work with teens, regarding your argument for treating teens more like adults?
Well, the behind-the-scenes reaction I’ve gotten has been 100% positive. I have not run across one professional who works with teens who has not agreed with me. I’ve been getting letters from middle school teachers, high school teachers, psychologists, all of whom are highly supportive, but not many seem to be talking publicly about these issues. One exception is Dr. Helen Smith, a prominent forensic psychologist in Tennessee who has worked with thousands of young criminals. She’s come out swinging in defense of my book, because she believes as I do that youth violence is just a creation of our culture. The book also carries almost unprecedented endorsements from prominent thinkers: Joyce Brothers, M. Scott Peck, Deepak Chopra, Alvin Toffler, and many others.
Unfortunately, the livelihoods of many mental health professionals depend on the old and mistaken ideas about teens. Look at the business that would dry up in the mental health professions if they acknowledged the truth of what I’m saying—and what I’m saying is true.
Do you think that the idea of teens being treated more like adults will become a reality?
When you have opposing forces, things tend to move very slowly. You have teens on one side, pushing, but they’re currently powerless, and now you’ve got some adults joining with them and they’re pushing with them, but they're a minority. On the other side, you’ve got my “enemies list.” You've got the massive industries that contribute to the maintenance of teen culture, you’ve got fearful parents who want to protect their offspring (and again, I can relate to that), you’ve got the whole pharmaceutical industry desperately wanting to expand that market, and they’re doing a good job of it. I think that, generally speaking, changes are going to come very slowly. If anything, as a culture we’re moving in the wrong direction right now, continuing to restrict young people and to isolate them from adults.
There’s one area where you will see some substantial changes, probably within 10 to 20 years, and that area is education. Why? Because of technology. You’ve got this technology that’s just surrounding young people and parents, saying, “Hey, you know what? We can do better. We can, for the first time in history, provide superb education to every person individually.”
The fraudulent idea of the “teen brain”—now that’s an area where my perspective will probably have no impact, in part because the drug companies support the idea of the teen brain. More money is now being spent on psychoactive drugs for teens than on all other prescription medications combined, including antibiotics and acne medications. The drug companies want us to believe that teens have defective brains that cause them to act irresponsibly. It simply isn’t true.
But education—that will change. And the homeschooling movement is well positioned—better positioned than any other societal force—to make that change happen.
Robert Epstein is a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind and the former editor in chief of Psychology Today. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University and is a longtime researcher and professor. His latest book is called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (Quill Driver Books, 2007). More information is at www.thecaseagainstadolescence.com.
Andrea Longbottom grew up in Southeast Texas and was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school.
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a non-profit organization and the preeminent national association advocating the legal right of parents to homeschool their children. For more homeschool news check out http://www.hslda.org
Copyright 1996-2007 Home School Legal Defense Association.
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