CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. -- Noted brain scientist Michael Nerney, who is a former teacher, visited Blue Mountain Middle School students to speak to them about the adolescent brain on Monday, Nov. 3. Nerney defined the adolescent brain age range as lasting from about ages 13-23.
Nerney spoke with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade groups as well as to the faculty in a longer after-school session. And although each group’s presentation was tailored to the audience, the general picture that emerged was that much of what adults deem to be annoying, self-centered, sometimes reckless and even vain behavior is really completely normal and part of the developmental process. Among the many topics Nerney touched on was the effects of drugs and alcohol on brain development and function. With the eighth-grade group, Nerney spent time explaining how the seeming vanity of adolescents – their tendency to want to look at themselves in mirrors or store windows – is really a function of brain chemistry. Building on this, he showed slides of the faces of two teenagers whose skin, teeth and facial bone structure had been riddled with damage related to the abuse of methamphetamine. Nerney emphasized gender differences, maintaining that male and female brains are inherently different, with girls, for example, having more neurological connections between their left and right brains. He argued that their responses to stressors can be expected to be different, too. His theory is that boys in general will lash out physically when they are angry, whereas girls will be more verbal. During the faculty presentation, he offered anecdotes illustrating poor decision-making as a fact (and not an aberration) of adolescent life. He also offered suggestions on how (and how not) to respond to teenage anger and defiance.
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