The “their biology makes them do it” hypothesis concerning the oft-horrid behavior of today’s teens keeps rolling along, charming parents into the comforting belief that said behavior has nothing to do with their parenting.
The most recent example appeared as an Oct. 16 Wall Street Journal article that reviewed a study recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology. It’s now clear, says the article, that “the brain regions that support social cognition” – those that support the development of empathy – “continue to change dramatically” during the teen years. That means they aren’t fully developed.
Given that there are plenty of children who enter the teen years with well-developed empathy, do not bully other children, are not petulant, moody, disrespectful of authority, or otherwise horrid, the study in question is the latest exercise in academic mumbo-jumbo by the folks who want you to believe bad behavior is the result of things like hormones, biochemical imbalances, and inadequate blood supply to the left frontal lobe, all, of course, the result of genes.
I recently spoke with an individual who has spent a good amount of time working with youth in African villages, where one teacher is often found teaching close to 100 children. During her tenure in these villages, my friend saw only one child whose classroom behavior was out of line.
Do teens in Africa have abnormal biology? How about American teens who are not petulant, moody, insensitive and disrespectful? What about teens 50-plus years ago? We did not slam doors, isolate ourselves in our rooms, refuse to interact with family members for days at a time or engage in the narcissistic drama that characterizes so many of today’s adolescents. Neither did teens in the 1830s, whom Toqueville, in “Democracy in America,” described as trustworthy, hard-working, responsible members of their communities.
It is also well known that brain structures and functionality reflect prior training. I am led, by the preponderance of evidence contradicting the research in question, to conclude that teens who are self-dramatic, disrespectful and lacking in empathy are the product of homes in which they have been pampered, spoiled, entitled, and told that the only people on the planet who really matter are them.
One trains a child to pay attention and respond to the needs of others. That does not happen magically. Historically, such social training involved rigorous teaching of social courtesies, aka good manners. The fact is that all too many of today’s parents are too busy running their children from one extracurricular activity to another to spend adequate time teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that other people matter. The researchers in question propose to let these parents off the hook.
Their attempt at parenting absolution makes no sense, but it will sell.