A Quiz on Teens: Common Misconceptions Even You Might Still Believe
Dr. Lynn Margolies
It’s a challenge to understand teens - for both adults and teens themselves. Check out this quiz to sort out myth from reality and get the latest scientific findings on the adolescent brain.
1. Which of the following is NOT true?
The adolescent brain leads teens to:
a. exploreb. seek out the good in lifec. feel things passionatelyd. seek noveltye. process information rapidlyf. need their parents less and be less impacted by parents’ disapprovalg. all of the above
Though teens have gotten a bad rap, the adolescent brain has enviable features that give teens unique potential for optimism, vitality, innovation, and positive change. Peers may seem to be all that matters to them and are, in fact, a key ingredient in helping teens forge their own identity. But, in spite of appearances to the contrary, adolescents still need their parents’ availability, guidance, and support (delivered in a way that respects teens’ opinions and autonomy). The challenge for parents is to tolerate when teens pull away and not take it personally. This means resisting the urge to retaliate by withdrawing too, in the guise of giving them space. Answer: f
2. Adolescents feel more intense temptation than other ages, which makes it harder for them to say no to alluring things.
True or False
Adolescents experience overwhelming temptations and cravings for excitement. The depletion of dopamine in parts of the teen brain make teens easily bored and ready to rev up. On top of this, the reward centers in the adolescent brain are more active and easily stimulated, leading to an intense and irresistible rush when they get excited. When things feel good, they feel better during adolescence than at any other time in life. This biochemistry is adaptive in that it pushes adolescents out of the comfort of the nest - driving them to seek out new experiences and learn the coping skills they will need as adults. Answer: True
3. Adolescents are vulnerable to acting on their impulses:
a. when they are being watched by peers (including via text, photos, social media)b. when they are with, or anticipating being with, peersc. when they are excitedd. all of the above e. always
Under highly charged conditions for teens, the reward circuits in the teenage brain light up, and the pressure to act on temptation can be overwhelming. In such situations of high arousal, information processing is slowed, and impulse control deactivated. Therefore, it is important to consider the context teens will be in when giving freedoms. For example, because anticipating being with peers, and being with peers, changes brain chemistry and disables executive functions, teens are more at risk in these situations. Under conditions of low arousal and with time to think things through, however, teens have the ability to act intelligently and use good judgment and common sense. Answer: d
4. Which of the following is true:
a. Adolescents are highly receptive to learning and interesting challenges.b. Adolescents are too self-absorbed to be able to care about learning. c. Adolescents have the same ability to learn as people of other ages.
The teen brain bestows a unique opportunity for kids to practice and imprint the values and skills you want them to have later in life since, like the period from birth to age 5, adolescence is a critical period of brain development. Though new skills can be learned at any age, they can be learned permanently and with less effort during these critical periods. (Exception: kids who have ADHD/executive function deficits - for whom learning is typically frustrating and extremely effortful.)
In adolescence, the structures of the brain become specialized and develop in a “use it or lose it” manner - hard wiring new skills and templates. Unfortunately, adolescents surveyed across the country unanimously chose the adjectives: “stressed, bored, tired” to describe how they feel 75-80% of the time at school. This finding suggests that schools are failing to engage teens in learning - squandering a decisive window of opportunity. Answer: a
5. You are 10x more likely to have addictions in adulthood if you use addictive substances, including alcohol, at 15 than if you wait until 21 because:
a. using substances during the teen years can have a permanent effect on the reward system of the developing brainb. using substances can affect college applications c. by 21 kids have more common sense
The structure and biochemistry of the adolescent brain is highly sensitive to and molded by what teens are exposed to. Repeated exposure to substances allows for the development of pathways in the brain that make teens vulnerable to later addiction. Further, because of their brain chemistry adolescents are more sensitive to the positive effects of alcohol, such as easing social situations - and less prone to the negative effects, such as lack of motor coordination, sedation, and hangover - until greater quantities are consumed (Spear, L.P. and Varlinskaya, E.I., 2005). These differences in how teens metabolize alcohol makes them even more vulnerable to excessive drinking.Answer: a
6. A car metaphor that has been used to describe the adolescent brain is:
a. revved up engine careening out of controlb. car without the headlights onc. powerful gas pedal and weak brakes
Features of the adolescent brain - especially the combined effect of intensified cravings, attraction to risk and sensation-seeking, and underdeveloped capacity for restraint - place teens at greater risk for unintended accidents and injury than other age groups. Accidents are the leading cause of death in teens.Answer: c
7. In general, teens are far less capable than adults of having self-control and holding back.
True or False
Teens’ capacity for self-control under neutral situations is almost equal to adults, but significantly worse than adults and other youth under tempting situations. The differences mostly come into play under “hot” situations. This is why approaches that warn and educate teens have been shown to be ineffective if they don’t also give teens tools (and/or limits) that are informed by what happens to them in the heat of the moment. Answer: False
8. Which of the following improve adolescent self-control and self-regulation:
a. sleep b. mindfulness c. aerobic exercise d. limiting temptations e. reducing stress and pressure f. all of the above
Executive functions go offline as a result of stress, pressure and lack of sleep - impeding learning and information processing. Executive functions and self-control can be bolstered by some simple environmental and other modifications that reduce stress, calm the brain, and allow room for reflection.
The adolescent brain is “under construction” and more sensitive to stress than other ages. Consistently, adolescence is the most likely time for the onset of mental illness. Further, life expectancy is affected by extreme stress in adolescents more than other age groups.Answer: f
9. Which of the following prepare teens for the world and are most related to happiness and long-term success:
a. self-esteemb. ambition c. hard workd. self-regulation/self-controle. caring about othersf. d and e
Self-regulation (which can be taught) is correlated with competence, achievement, physical and mental health, and good relationships. Self-regulation involves the ability to reflect, keep the big picture in mind, redirect attention, as well as delay gratification and/or do the more difficult thing when thoughts, feelings, and desires lead us elsewhere. The ability to manage oneself in this way is the foundation for other skills, and allows us to consider what’s most important in the long run, do the right thing. and be kind to others. Caring about others gives life meaning, fosters connections, allows us to work effectively in collaboration with other people - all of which are required for success and sustainable happiness. Ambition and hard work are necessary to pursue goals, but, unless embedded in the context of more essential values and capacities, don’t lead to success since they can be used for good, evil, destructive obsession, or at the expense of relationships. Answer: f
10. Intense focus on achievement and happiness makes kids:
a. happier and higher achievingb. higher achieving but not necessarily happierc. less caring, less happy, and not higher achieving
When parents are overly invested in performance, kids are less likely to develop their own more sustainable motivation. They are less caring and less empathic towards others. The constant need for external evidence of worth in the form of approval, status or appearance leads kids to become self-esteem junkies - whereby validation-seeking becomes a driving force for emotional survival (Margolies, 2015). In such environments, values such as fairness and kindness are supplanted by the need to be on top, making kids more likely to cheat and act uncaring towards others - compromising learning, relationships and happiness. Answer: c
11.Kids in affluent communities who feel pressure to achieve:
a. don’t outperform othersb. outperform their peers
Kids in affluent communities don’t outperform their peers. Affluent high school girls are 2-3x more likely to be clinically depressed than other girls. Parents in affluent communities who are hyper vigilant about teens’ success have been found to be overinvolved in some areas but under involved and blind to what’s going on emotionally and in other areas of teens lives. These teens often report feeling alone - with the sense that their parents aren’t interested in them apart from making them look good as parents.Answer: a
This concludes the quiz.
Now, instead of falling back on old assumptions about adolescents, you can pause and think about the latest science on the teenage brain.
Much of this information was obtained from: 2015 Learning & the Brain 42 Conference: “The Science of Character: Using Brain Science to Raise Student Self-Regulation, Resilience and Respect”, Boston, MA
Margolies, L. (2015). The Paradox of Pushing Kids to Succeed. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-paradox-of-pushing-kids-to-succeed/
Spear, L.P., and Varlinskaya, E.I. Adolescence: Alcohol sensitivity, tolerance, and intake. In: Galanter, M., ed. Recent Developments in Alcoholism, Vol. 17: Alcohol Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults: Epidemiology, Neurobiology, Prevention, Treatment. New York: Springer, 2005. pp. 143–159. PMID: 15789864