As any parent knows, raising a child during their teenage years can be daunting, intimidating, and frustrating. Teens display a wide variety of emotions, and we tend to see that turbulence as a sign of immaturity — something negative. But according to Daniel J. Siegel, we’ve got adolescence all wrong.
In Brainstorm, Siegel, a physician, debunks the myths about teenagers that we have come to accept as gospel. Adolescence, he writes, is not a time of immaturity but of actual changes in the developing brain. It should be viewed as a period for great adventure and exploring, rather than a period where teens just need to “grow up.” It is a time to develop character traits that will lead kids into adulthood.
In fact, Siegel writes, the way each of us navigates the teen years will have a direct impact on how we will live the rest of our lives.
Again, instead of thinking of adolescence as an annoying phase to simply get through as quickly as we can, Siegel encourages us to think of the period between 12 and 24 as one with “the most power for courage and creativity.” Instead of seeing turbulent emotions and arguing as a negative thing, we can recognize that our child is doing the important work of testing boundaries, seeking independence, and trying out the unknown.
Siegel explores four cardinal qualities of the adolescent mind: novelty-seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. Risks, and the rewards adolescents associate with taking risks, he writes, come from innate changes in brain development during this phase of life. The challenge is to support exploration while minimizing the chances of harm.
And in discussing the developing brain and how best to support teens — and yourself — in keeping healthy, Siegel uses many acronyms to help readers remember key concepts. He uses SIFT, for instance, to help us remember daily activities that can keep our mind and body healthy. SIFT, he writes, means we take a moment to focus on our inner experiences of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts.
Of course, Siegel does admit that not everything is necessarily cheery for all those teenage years. To that end, he provides exercises meant to enhance the positive and minimize the negative in teen living. Empathy and self-awareness, he writes, are critical.
While sometimes the neuroscientific information in the book makes for dense reading, Siegel does a fair job of making the science comprehensible. If you want to learn about how the brain functions, how to nurture your relationship with your adolescent, and how to help your teenager make their own relationships more fulfilling, this book may help.
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain
Tarcher, August 2015
Paperback, 352 pages