“It’s not that we find it hard to study. See, we study when we need to, like this afternoon, I could study for 2 hours at a stretch, and I was in the zone. Then I took a break and got completely distracted, after that I found it difficult to get back.” Yes, that was my teen’s answer to the question, why do teens find it hard to study. I am sure many teens and parents would relate to this.
There is a huge amount of study out there that explains why teenagers find it difficult to concentrate on any one thing for extended periods of time. If you are one of those parents worrying about your teen slacking off during study time, take heart. Your child is not being lazy or careless – he / she is a hapless victim of neurobiology.
Research shows teen brains function like that of younger children
According to a research paper published in 2010 in The Guardian, teenagers’ brains continue developing far longer into adulthood than previously thought – in fact the development continues till the late 20s. Adolescents may look like young adults but their brain structure resembles that of much younger children.
According to Dr Iroise Dumontheil of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, one of the authors who published this research paper in Journal of Neuroscience, it is not always easy for adolescents to pay attention in class without letting their minds wander, or to ignore distractions from their younger sibling when trying to solve a maths problem.
She goes on to explain that the distraction had to do with the structure of the teen brain that simply did not have the same mental capacities as that of an adult. In fact, when the brain activity of teens was measured through MRI scans, as they tried to solve a problem in their heads while ignoring environmental distractions, it was found that the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) had as much chaotic activity as that seen in young children.
Too much grey matter causes too much brain activity
This excessive activity in the prefrontal cortex disrupts an individual’s ability to make decisions and multi-task, as the brain gets involved in a lot of needless activity every time it has to make decisions.
“We knew that the prefrontal cortex of young children functioned in this chaotic way but we didn’t realise it continued until the late 20s or early 30s,” said Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, who led the study.
These experts explain that the chaotic thought patterns are a result of teenagers’ brains containing too much grey matter – the cell bodies and connections which carry messages within the brain. As we age, the amount of grey matter in our brains decreases and enables the adult brain to work more effectively.
Do not expect your teen to think like you
What this research reveals is that our teens are not be blamed if they seem distracted, disoriented and lost. I have noticed that sometimes making a simple decision like what to wear for an evening out can take a long time where my teen is involved. This can irritate me to no end, and I always end up lecturing him on how he needs to speed up the decision making.
The above facts made me realize that it is not his fault, his brain is just not processing information as mine does. I am certain that further research on the topic will explain the laid back behavior we see in these young boys and girls. If you have ever called out a teen in an emergency, you would see that their response time is appalling. One often has to call out to them a couple of times before they even register that you are calling out to them.
Disinterested, distracted teen? It’s normal.
As a parent, this research information has made me realize that I do not really need to get on to my teen’s case. I have always worried that his lack of punctuality will become a habit with him into his adult life. Also his messy habits have had me climbing walls, wondering how he was going to operate in the real world. But the above findings reveal that confusion, lack of clarity are a part of the growing up process and as parents we need to realize that and help guide them through this chaotic period in their life.
These learnings, I believe are enabling me to see my teen’s behavior in a better light, understand him better, and I am more patient with him now than I was before.
Technology adds to distraction
This said, it is important to note that today’s generation has even more distraction than the last one: with smartphones, social media, web browsing and the like. While teens do understand that it is difficult to study and manage their social media profiles at the same time, they often seem unable to control themselves. With smartphones always within an arm’s reach, these young ones can often be seen whiling away precious study time on these gadgets. In light of the above research, parents should make the effort to keep the smartphones away from the teens while they are studying. Keeping the gadgets in another room can prove to an effective solution, as it removes the temptation, and the teen does not have to struggle with having to make a decision.
What strategies do you apply to help your teen focus and study better? Please share in the comments below.
To read the original article published in The Guardian, click here.
~ Bharti Athray