Why Do They Act That Way? : A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen
In this national bestseller, acclaimed, award-winning psychologist Dr. David Walsh explains exactly what happens to the human brain on the path from childhood into adolescence and adulthood. Revealing the latest scientific findings in easy-to-understand terms, Dr. Walsh shows why moodiness, quickness to anger and to take risks, miscommunication, fatigue, territoriality, and other familiar teenage behavior problems are so common -- all are linked to physical changes and growth in the adolescent brain.
Why Do They Act That Way? is the first book to explain the changes in teens' brains and show parents how to use this information to understand, communicate with, and stay connected to their kids. Through real-life stories, Dr. Walsh makes sense of teenagers' many mystifying, annoying, and even outright dangerous behavioral difficulties and provides realistic solutions for dealing with everyday as well as severe challenges. Dr. Walsh's techniques include, among others: sample dialogues that help teens and parents talk civilly and constructively with each other, behavioral contracts, and Parental Survival Kits that provide practical advice for dealing with issues like curfews, disrespectful language and actions, and bullying. With this arsenal of strategies, parents can help their kids learn to control impulses, manage erratic behavior, cope with their changing bodies, and, in effect, develop a second brain.
Here are two different approaches to help parents understand adolescent behavior. Walsh, a clinical psychologist with experience as a high school teacher, focuses on how adolescent brain development and chemistry lead to troubling behaviors. He shows parents how to respond constructively to traits like risk taking, sullenness, and refusal to follow rules. An engaging narrative style and insight into adolescents' minds make Walsh's book enjoyable as well as informative; recommended for public libraries and for academic libraries at schools with clinical psychology programs. Psychiatrist Paul (When Kids Are Mad, Not Bad) explores a wider range of problems, e.g., serious disorders like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, in a reference format. Sections include "Feelings," "Behavior," and "Drugs," which are subdivided into chapters on particular disorders or situations. The book supplies cross references by chapter and contact information for mental health organizations, but references to bibliographic resources would have made it more useful, given the necessarily limited coverage of so many different issues. Some readers might find Paul overly willing to recommend medication for teenagers with common diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), too easily dismissing the possibility of misdiagnosis and the risk of medicating young people unnecessarily. While Paul's book is not as outstanding overall as Walsh's, it does provide parents with basic information on mental illnesses not covered in Walsh's book and is recommended for public libraries. Susan E. Pease, Univ. of Massachusetts Lib., Amherst Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 23, 2005
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Excerpt from Why Do They Act That Way? by David Walsh
One: Making Sense of Adolescence
Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.
Socrates, Fifth Century BC
Probably the best way to describe adolescence is to say that it begins at puberty and ends...sometime. That may sound silly and unscientific, but it's the most accurate description of adolescence that I've come across. It is vague precisely because adolescence is an in-between stage determined not so much by what it is but by what it is not. Adolescence is not childhood, and it is not adulthood; it is the period in between those two stages. And because today's kids get through childhood faster than kids did in the past, their transition to adulthood now seems to be taking longer than ever before.
The gap between teens and adults seems to be growing too. Three teenagers I spoke with not long ago told me that adults move away from them on the bus when they get on. "Why do you think they do that?" I asked.
"Because they're afraid of us," offered one boy.
His friend disagreed. "I think it's because they don't like us."
The proverbial generation gap is fast becoming a chasm. It's not easy being an adolescent. Just consider some of the things they face.
* They have to handle sexually maturing bodies that give rise to strong urges.
* They have to try to figure out and manage volatile and powerful emotions.
* They have to fit into a complex social network.
* They have to deal with immense peer pressure.
* They have to deal with wildly changing moods.
* They have to decide how they are going to respond to the temptation of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
* They have to figure out what their values are going to be.
* They have to renegotiate relationships with their parents.
* They have to get through school.
* They have to figure out how to get enough sleep.
* They have to begin to plan their future.
This list can get a lot longer. Any way you look at it, adolescents have a lot of balls in the air, and because they can't always handle their juggling acts with the utmost grace, the people around them -- especially their parents -- bear the brunt of teens' frustration. Over the years I've come to understand that the adolescent years are the most difficult for parents and their teens.
Two years ago I received a call from a friend. "Do you have time for a cup of coffee?" he asked.
"Sure, when would you like to get together?"
"Right now?" was his instant reply.
Thirty minutes later we were sitting down in a neighborhood coffee shop. With tears in his eyes Steve unloaded the worry, sadness, and anger he was feeling about his fourteen-year-old son, Kevin. A particularly nasty argument over a curfew had erupted earlier in the evening, capping several days of simmering conflict. "I called you because I'm at my wits' end. I don't understand what's happening, and I don't know if we'll be able to get through whatever comes next."
I have known Kevin since he was born. He grew up a bright, energetic, happy kid who loved doing things with his mom and dad. He was friendly, cooperative, talkative, and always game for some adventure. As I drank my coffee, Steve described Kevin's personality transformation. Almost overnight, Steve explained, Kevin had gone from happy to sullen, from talkative to quiet, from easygoing to hostile.
"Now it seems like everything turns into an argument. The chip on his shoulder is huge."
His eyes dropped to his coffee cup, where he was fiddling with a spoon. Finally he said, in a shaky voice, "This is so hard. I don't know what to do."
Adults from Socrates to my friend Steve have been perplexed and challenged by adolescents for thousands of years. Even the most mild-mannered kids pose difficulties for their parents, from needing to stock the pantry to meet their growth spurts to figuring out what to do when they sleep until noon. For the adults living and working with the adolescents who take a more volatile course to adulthood, the situations that arise -- dangerous accidents, teen drinking, drug use, and run-ins with the police, to name a few -- can inspire hair-pulling anger and head-shaking bewilderment. Adults talk about each new generation of adolescents as evidence that the world is falling apart.
When you think about it, the rift between adults and adolescents is strange because every adult was once an adolescent. Everyone who has made it to adulthood remembers (if he or she wants to remember) how hard it can be to deal with the peer pressure, the physical changes of puberty, and worries about the future -- who you are and what to do with your life -- that are so characteristic of adolescence. You probably recall your own confusion and discovery, excitement and frustration, happiness and heartbreak during your teen years, but you and other adults are still no doubt surprised by each new generation of adolescents. They seem lazier, angrier, less capable of thinking through the consequences of their actions, and more willing to drive the adults in their life insane.