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Mindful : June 2014
June 2014 mindful 47 neuroscience Myths There are a few myths surrounding ado- lescence that science now clearly shows us are simply not true. And even worse than being wrong, these false beliefs can actually make life more difficult for adolescents and adults alike. So let’s bust these myths right now. Raging Hormones Make You Crazy One of the most powerful myths sur- rounding adolescence is that rag ing hormones cause teenagers to “go mad” or “lose their minds.” That ’s simply false. Hormones do increase during this period, but it is not the hormones that determine what goes on in adolescence. We now know that what adolescents experience is prima rily the result of cha nges in the development of the brain. Knowing about these changes ca n help life flow more smoothly for you as an adolescent or for you as an adult with adolescents in your world. You Just Need to Grow Up Another myth is that adolescence is sim- ply a time of immaturity and teens just need to “g row up.” With such a restricted view of the situation, it’s no surprise that adolescence is seen as something that everyone just needs to endure, to somehow sur vive a nd leave behind with as few battle scars as possible. Yes, being an adolescent ca n be confusing and terrifying as so many things are new and often intense. And for adults, what ado- lescents do may seem confounding and even senseless. Believe me, as the father of two adolescents, I know. The view → Ben Painter, 18 I’m president of the student body at Middlesex School, Concord, Massachusetts. We incorporate a mindfulness class into the curriculum—every freshman takes it and can keep doing it later on. The biggest challenge in my life is managing time. There’s a lot of pressure: the tough college application process; having as many extracurricular activities as possible; ar t or community ser vice or whatever. I play tennis and I do giant slalom skiing. Balancing all these things with homework, it’s definitely a struggle. I didn’t come to mindfulness because of emotional struggle, but more because it helps me with my aspirations and ambitions. I’m a self-motivated guy, so I have pressure coming from within. If I’m tense or nervous before a game or test, I do a shor t mindfulness practice or a body scan. It’s nice to listen to my body more, instead of only thinking of the tasks I have coming up. Taking a little time to be in the moment has helped me deal better with pressure—it relaxes me. I feel like I do a lot better on tests too. It’s taught me to be more present with friends when hanging out. Not always on my phone. Through mindfulness I’ve learned that it’s not about achieving ever y thing, it’s about having a good at titude, taking it in stride, and doing better the nex t time around. → What we are coming to see is that there is a crucial set of brain changes during our adolescence creating new powers, new possibilities, a nd new pur- poses fueling the adolescent mind and relationships that simply did not exist like this in childhood. These positive potentials a re often hidden from view and yet they can be uncovered and used more effectively and more wisely when we know how to find them and how to cultivate them. We can learn to use cut- ting edge science to make the most of the adolescent period of life. It’s a pay-it-for- ward investment for everyone involved. For the teen, the growth of the body itself, with alterations in physiology, hormones, sexual organs, and the architectural changes in the brain, also can contribute to our understanding of adolescence as a n importa nt period of transformation. Changing emotions revolutionize how we feel as teens inside, ma king more complex the ways of processing information a nd our ideas about the self and others, and even creating huge developmental shifts and tra nsitions in the inner sense of who we are and who we can become. This is how a sense of identity shifts and evolves throughout adolescence. From the inside, these changes ca n become over whelming, a nd we may even lose our way, and feel that life is just “too much” to navigate at times. From the outside, such changes may at times seem like we are lost and “out of control.” Our adolescent yea rs ca n be challenging for sure. But the great news is that with increased self-awa reness of our emotiona l and social lives, and with an increased understanding of the brain’s structure and function, the powerful positive effects of the complex changes that occur during adolescence can be harnessed with the proper approach and understanding. 1 2