Book Review: The Teenage Brain (Frances E. Jensen)

If you are a bit of a brain geek (like me) and a parent of teenagers (or nearly-teens) then this is the ideal book for you. It charts the changes that take place inside teenagers’ brains and how the differences between teenagers’ and adults’ brains can explain typical teenage behaviour (such as impulsivity, risk-taking, mood swings, lack of insight, forgetfulness, and poor judgement).

For a parent of teenagers, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults is both an enlightening and a frightening read. It will help you understand why your teenagers behave the way they do (and why they can’t control it) but also just how dangerous that teen thinking and risk-taking could be. A teenager’s brain is basically a recipe for disaster: a hormone flooded, jacked up, stimulus-seeking explosion incapable of weighing up risks or making mature decisions. It’s amazing any of them survive at all….

Jensen (the author) is a neuroscientist so there is quite a lot of technical detail in this book. But if brain science is not your thing then it is possible to skip through some of the stodgier descriptions of how neurons work and still get the gist of how brain development impacts on teenage thinking and behaviour.

In essence, the executive functions (which control impulsivity and enable planning and task-focus) are located in the front part of the brain which is still underdeveloped in teenagers. Which explains why teens are liable to forget from one minute to the next the one thing that they were definitely supposed to remember to do. At the same time, the teenage brain is in rapid learning mode and firing much too quickly, meaning that teens get a huge neurological pay-off when things feel good and tend to repeat that behaviour again and again despite the consequences. It’s this reward-seeking impulse without ability to control or delay that drives teenagers’ repetitive or risky behaviour.

Knowing why teenagers behave the way they do definitely won’t answer all your questions about how you should parent teenagers – this isn’t a magic bullet. But understanding the neurological drivers of the more frustrating aspects of teenage behaviour might help you to cope with some of the tribulations of trying to parent one. They really aren’t doing it deliberately…..

This is not a sponsored post. I put this book on my Christmas list and received it as a gift from a member of my family who knows what I like! However, this post does contain affiliate links which means that if you click through from this post and buy the book I will receive a small fee. For more details, see my Disclosure Notice.

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Teenage Brain (Frances E. Jensen)

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      I found it really helps me to stay calm and be the grown up when I remember that teenagers genuinely aren’t yet in control of themselves and their reactions!

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      Hopefully you will sail through the teenage years with no conflict or strife and no need for self-help books… (but if not, you’re welcome, I hope you find it useful!) 🙂

  1. Acorn Books

    I am a brain geek so I would love the neuroscience parts of this book. My eldest is only three so the teenage years feel a long way away, I’m sure they will come round quickly though!

  2. Maddy@writingbubble

    My eldest is very nearly nine but I’m already eyeing the teenage years with trepidation! I promised myself, many years ago that I would remember how hard it is to be a teenager (everything feels like the worse thing, or the most embarrassing thing ever!) and try and be understanding of my (then) future children. A book like this sounds like it would help me remember. Thanks for sharing. #readwithme

    1. AnitaCleare Post author

      Living with teenagers I am reminded every day just how hard it is going through those years. But now, from the other side, I also experience how difficult it is to help them with it. So much of being a teenager involves teens working through it by themselves – very frustrating for a parent! The best we can hope for is to maintain connection and empathy and make sure they know we are there for them.


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