This October National Geographic ran a fascinating article on the teenage brain. In a nutshell, the article elucidates why adolescents and young adults can in one moment appear sensible and bright, and, in another moment, impulsive and engaging in risky behavior. This duality has to do with the way that their brains are developing. Furthermore, these youngsters are participating at the leading edge of brain evolution for the species – their behaviors are critical to the ability of the human species to adapt quickly to an ever -changing environment.
The brain develops far more slowly in certain ways than we ever knew. Between the ages of 12 and 25, the human brain undergoes a “massive reorganization.” It’s more or less already reached its full size, but the way it’s all wired is literally being re-circuited. I won’t reiterate the biology here – the article does a good job of that – but suffice it to say that it’s not until the early-to-mid twenties, when the brain has finally slowed in its development, that young adults are actually capable of balancing desires and impulses with rules, self-interest, goals, and sensible behaviors. “But at times, especially at first, the brain does this work clumsily. It’s hard to get all those new cogs to mesh” – or so it seems. Yet beyond our superficial assessment of their lack of responsibility lies a brilliant strategy for the species: this seemingly slow development of their brain is actually a good strategy for quickening the pace at which humans are able to adapt. Their risky behavior is perhaps the mother of human invention and evolution!
I’d recommend reading the article, as it’s definitely great for parents (and other caring adults) to recognize that we’re not alone in our confusion about the choices that teens make or their deep desire to be with peers more than with family. I actually think that teens need loving, involved adults more than ever, but, as the article suggests, it’s a time for parents to offer independence along with a guiding hand. I read somewhere that a parent of an adolescent shifts from being a micro-manager to a consultant, and it’s a tricky business, especially considering that learning social skills and being able to navigate challenging, and possibly dangerous, situations make the brain stronger. The National Geographic article’s primary thesis is that all of the risk-taking that teens engage in truly does prepare them to leave the nest and thrive in a foreign and, often dangerous, outside world.
But back to nutrition! Here’s the challenge: it’s pretty tough to micro-manage what your teen eats. One truth that we absolutely know is that just about everything that has to do with the human body is affected by food. No, eating kale and beets won’t keep your teen from needing more sleep than you do, from wanting to grow and explore their world without you, or from making the occasional (or regular!) poor choice. But the right nutrition can make a huge difference in a teenager’s mood, growth, and health (of course!). Between the fact that they are out of your presence much of the time, often have their own money, want desperately to be like their friends, and have a strong enough will to refuse the chard-delight that you made for dinner, you have to hope that you gave their brain a good start with lots of excellent dietary choices when they were younger. But even if you didn’t, it’s not too late to make sure that your kids are getting food that’s critical to the healthy growth of their brains and bodies.
First, as with younger children, involve them in cooking. Consider assigning them one night a week to cook, and teach them how to prepare a few different simple, healthful meals that you know they enjoy, and have a few ground rules for family meals: only whole foods, at least one green thing, etc. Many kids actually learn to love cooking at this time of life, and it’s a great way for you to share experiences with them.
Second, make sure that they are taking Juice Plus+®. It’s a nuts and bolts, practical solution that addresses some bottom-line nutritional needs especially with young people’s scattered lifestyles. Even when they are not paying attention, their brain development continues to be dependent on receiving a decent supply of oxygen, nutrients, and healthy building blocks like fatty acids. There’s been a great deal of research about Juice Plus+®, and we know that it helps to protect the important fats and proteins from undergoing free radical damage. Juice Plus+® critically improves circulation, especially at those times when a young adult may be making poor food choices that will otherwise block oxygen and nutrient flow to their brain. All the time, money, and energy going toward raising creative, confident adults is fully realized when the brain also has access to oxygen and the necessary nutrients for a fully functioning brain. Don’t let nutrition be your blind spot in parenting.