The brain talk

Blame My Brain. Yes, I will, if it turns out I made inadequate notes that don’t help me blog ten days after The Talk. That’s Nicola Morgan’s excellent talk on young brains, Monday last week, at the Royal Terrace Hotel.

As she pointed out, this is all about explaining why young people are the way they are. It’s no excuse. But it does help, realising why teenagers are so peculiar, and how they still manage to grow into quite normal adults after a while. For the purposes of the talk, Nicola reckoned a teenager is anyone between the ages of eight and thirty. Seems fair. We all know stroppy pre-teens and some of us have children who are still teenagers in their twenties.

Generalising is unfair, but can still be helpful. It’s worth working out if someone has ADHD/OCD or is just suffering from adolescence. The latter is something even rats and monkeys go through, although it is over a lot sooner for them.

There is peer pressure stress. They don’t care about their parents’s opinions the way they do their peers. And they get told off all the time. This is not good.

Neurons – grey matter – grow/multiply when girls are about ten and boys eleven. (I think it might have been 150 billion of the little things, but I could easily be wrong on the number of zeroes.) And then between ages 13 to 15 they start losing the neurons again, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. They use them, thereby strengthening connections. It’s a use it or lose it situation. And you really can’t be good at everything. Really.

The third stage is where you suddenly find you can’t do things you were previously able to do. You need more sleep than both before or after. Your emotions go haywire, and you take more risks, especially in the company of peers.

(I believe it is around here that we have the explanation as to why the young Seana merely grunted at her sisters, and how despite this they get on these days. It’s pure chemistry. Nothing – much, anyway – to do with what you’re told or taught.)

Depression for teenagers is easy to understand, while their prefrontal cortex is developing (this comes last, unfortunately). Part of the risk-taking is to use drugs, while at the same time the young brain is less able to cope with the effects of drugs.

Adults need to model good behaviour. We should remember, too, how we feel when we are criticised. We need to be their prefrontal cortex for them.

And something I’d never even thought of, is being younger than the rest. Nicola said she was among the younger ones in her school year. That can easily put you out of step with your peers when they have started accumulating neurons, or shedding them again. The little witch started school a year early, and classmates were between 12 and 18 months older. Maybe I was never as weird as I thought. Just not on the same neuron levels as the others.

For anyone who now needs a copy of Blame My Brain, the happy situation is that before Christmas (=now) Nicola will personally sell copies of all her books and sign them and post them to you. And do it cheaper than the shops.

I’m afraid I was so taken with the cakes and the tea last week, that I forgot to look at the copies of Blame My Brain they had for sale. Post-tea I only thought of my train and whether I’d get lost on the way to the station. But I am sure the book is as interesting as Nicola’s other non-fiction books. Last orders 16th December! (And since I’m not sure I’ve given you a terribly useful summary of the talk, I’d say getting a copy of the books is A Totally Good Thing.

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4 responses to “The brain talk

  1. Bookwitch, considering I spoke at speed for over an hour (and that was before Q&A), I reckon you did an impressive job. Just a couple of things I need to set straight, just because I wouldn’t want the wrong message to go out:

    “The third stage is where you suddenly find you can’t do things you were previously able to do. You need more sleep than both before or after. Your emotions go haywire, and you take more risks, especially in the company of peers.” Not quite. the third stage is the strengthening stage, myelination, when those connections that are left after the pruning stage become stronger and more efficient. The sleep, emotion and risk-taking aspects are features of the earlier two stages more than anything.

    “There is peer pressure stress. They don’t care about their parents’s opinions the way they do their peers.” I think the interesting thing about this is that I explained *why* reacting to peer pressure more positively than to parental views is important, positive and has good evolutionary motivation.

    Oh, and it seems to be the *volume* of neurons that increase/decrease, more than the number. Scientists disagree a bit on that aspect, tbh. Annoyingly.

    Thank you so much for recommending Blame My Brain, which explains it all so much more clearly than I can in a talk! And thank you for coming and for saying it was interesting.

    By the way, I thought my eyes were going funny – you’ve made snow on your blog, you naughty woman, haven’t you? Please say you have!

  2. I was desperately hoping you’d step in and inform my readers properly, so Thank You!
    I am your Snow Patrol. Would I do a thing like that? I can’t help it if it snows on your computer in Edinburgh…
    Coldplay, maybe. :)

  3. Kicki Eriksson-Lee

    I have bought the book for Oskar and me! Wish I had known all this when the girls were teens.

  4. This explains nothing about my adolescent but everything about her teenage parents.

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