At a wedding over the summer I was talking to an old friend I haven't seen for years. Her children are older than ours, and I've long thought that if my kids turn out half as good as hers, I'd be a content parent. During our conversations, I made the comment that my teenage son suddenly seemed incapable of basic things he was able to do before, like picking up his dirty socks and other simple tasks.
My friend said to me, "You know he has gaps in his brain right now, right?" I looked at her quizzically. She continued, "There's been research. The way an adolescent boy's brain grows, there are gaps. Eventually all the gaps will fill in again, but during the teenage years, there are gaps. Connections he used to have are no longer there, judgment can be compromised. My sons were are the same way."
I must have had a look of shock on my face. This would explain so much.
The gift of medical imaging
After that conversation, I sat myself down for some serious Web searching. I found articles about and references to numerous studies that all said different things yet meant the same thing: the brain of an adolescent boy is different from that of an adolescent girl, and it's still a work in progress.
There have been several studies that used medical imaging to visualize the brains of teenagers in an effort to define what is normal and what is not. There have been studies with other neuro-psych evaluations. There have been other kinds of studies, too. And they all used medical terminology with which I am not totally fluent.
By the time I was done searching, I still hadn't found an exact study to match what my friend said, but I had learned enough to know that the brain of the teenage boy is different, and I need to understand that - in addition to reinforcing lessons and values and all that so that when the connections are reestablished, they are there. The brains of adolescents - boys and girls - are still developing well into adolescence and even beyond. There is much forming of their psyches still to be done.
A reason, not an excuse
So my oldest son may have gaps in his brain, and my younger son likely will get them. Great. They will try to explain now, I'm sure, that leaving the milk out or forgetting to close the front door or any one of a number of things is "not my fault! There are gaps in my brain!" That's a connection that sure seems to be maintained.
Gaps or difference or whatever you want to call them are no excuse to stop encouraging - even insisting - on correct behavior. Sure, you can say there's a reason, but that reason also drives me to reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.
The human brain - infant, child, adolescent or adult - is incredibly complex. There's much we are learning every day, but far more that we may never fully understand. My son may be closer and closer to "grown" every day, but my work most definitely is not done.
That's My Teenage Son: How Moms Can Influence Their Boys to Become Good Men
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