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This is Your Body on Adolescence

Over twenty years ago, there was an amazingly effective public service announcement by a group called Partnership for a Drug-Free America. It was effective – not so much because it caused a dramatic decrease in the use of drugs, but because this one short ad seared itself into the collective cultural consciousness. I remember the ad vividly. There was a man in a kitchen. He held up an egg and said, “This is your brain.” He picked up a pan and said, “This is drugs,” and put the pan on the stove. Cracking open the egg, he dropped it in the pan while saying, “This is your brain on drugs,” as the egg fried and bubbled. He looked at the camera and said, “Any questions?” Fade to black.

It was a graphic representation of a complex and difficult reality – the effect of drug use on the health of your brain. Up to that point, I’m not sure people had given much thought, as a whole, to what drugs actually did to a person’s brain. Sure, they could see the physical effects on a person’s body, on their demeanor and behavior, but the brain was sort of a mysterious, shrouded object that most people didn’t truly understand unless they were in a medical or research profession. That ad brought into focus drugs and what their use was doing to the brains of thousands of people. And the message was simple – drugs fry your brain. Easy to grasp. Easy to remember.

Fast-forward to today. You, as a parent, can see the physical effects of adolescence on your teen. You observe their demeanor and behaviors; you remember your own. But puberty and adolescence have been sort of mysterious, shrouded by a process you don’t really understand unless you’re in a medical or research profession. Frankly, it’s a process many of us tried very hard to just survive as teens and then to hunker down and survive when it’s our kid’s turn.

But reverting to this hunker-down-and-just-survive-it mode for adolescence is a cheat. Surviving isn’t really experiencing life to the fullest, and there are parts of this time of life you’ll want to fully experience. Remember – the slimy pupa morphs into a beautiful butterfly in time. You wouldn’t want to be hunkered down so much you miss it.

Do you remember the discussion in chapter 3 about the research breakthroughs regarding imaging of the brain? And about how different adolescent brains are from even young adult brains? There is so much going on in the body of your teen directly connected to that brain. While you may become focused on the physical changes you can see and experience every day, don’t forget there’s a lot going on “upstairs” as well.

The above is excerpted from Chapter 5 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts, or on the Facebook or Twitter pages linked to below.

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