BOSTON — In Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/An Eamon Dolan Book), just out today, Dr. Laurence Steinberg reveals fresh evidence – including his own groundbreaking research – that will change the way we parent, educate, and understand young people.
"We tend to think of adolescence as a problem waiting to happen,” says Steinberg. “As a result, we have incredibly low expectations for the period—we are satisfied if our kids survive these years without something terrible happening to them. But it’s a time when kids are more susceptible to positive influences too, not just harmful ones. So instead of just trying to help our kids survive, we can think of adolescence as a time when we can actually help them thrive."
Among Steinberg’s revelations:
- Regions of the brain important for self-control and understanding of delayed gratification are as malleable and plastic throughout adolescence as they are during the infant and toddler years. What we do during a child’s adolescence can determine success throughout their lives.
- Amidst concerns about how long it takes young people today to settle down, research suggests that delaying adulthood may actually be beneficial from a neurobiological perspective. This period of plasticity can be extended by continued exposure to novel and challenging experiences, many of which are more easily available in adolescence than adulthood.
- Brain plasticity cuts both ways: A malleable brain can be more easily nurtured by beneficial experiences, but it is also more easily harmed by toxic ones. Steinberg describes how to protect kids without overprotecting them, and how to guide them towards healthy challenges while steering them away from deadly risks.
- Adolescence lasts twice as long as it did in the 1950s. The new timetable of adolescence means parents must be careful about judging their child based on their memories of themselves at that age. A 12-year-old who is curious about sex is not abnormal, nor is a 24-year-old who still depends on his parents for support and advice.
- The current generation of 20-somethings are not necessarily the lazy and over-indulged youth portrayed so disparagingly in the popular press. Steinberg examined national data collected annually since 1976, and found that today's 20-year-olds are no more self-absorbed and have no higher self-esteem than their parents did when they were in their 20s.
- During adolescence, humans are hypersensitive to a wide array of experiences, from drugs to criticism to music to social cues. Steinberg shows how we can apply this understanding to make teens happier and our interactions with them smoother.
Laurence Steinberg is a professor of psychology at Temple University, author of the leading textbook on adolescence, as well as over 350 articles and a dozen books. He has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Psychology Today and is a regular guest on NPR.Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence is available on Sept. 9, 2014, priced $28.
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