I mean, you guys, the last book I read was the incredible, devastating Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, a London professor who watched her entire family get washed away by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Her whole family-- husband, 2 small sons, and her parents. Plus her best friend. It was a remarkable book, one that would be a tough act to follow for any book that came next.
No wonder it took me a second to catch my breath and plunge headfirst into Lawrence Steinberg's new discussion of prolonged adolescence and how parents can help their kids succeed by finding potential in an age of turmoil. But once I began reading this book, I was intrigued and, ultimately, satisfied.
TLC Book Tours sent me the book and asked me to participate in a blog tour for Age of Opportunity, and I was happy to do it. You guys know me-- I will read just about anything, and I have a special soft spot for parenting books. I am also a big planner. So even though I have an 8-year-old, this is the PERFECT TIME to start figuring out adolescence, especially since, Steinberg points out, the onset of puberty is getting earlier and the age at which kids finally grow up is getting later.
Steinberg does a great job of summarizing some really complex neuroscience research without talking down to his readers and without boring us. This is a fine line to straddle between too much jargon and too much gloss, and Steinberg balances by providing lots of good case studies and personal examples to bring research to life.
Because I have become a parent in the age of intensive mothering, I have read a million books that tell me about the plasticity of my children's brains between the ages of 0 and 3. I mean, if you believe the latest parenting buzz, your whole kid's life is determined by time they get to preschool-- that's how important neuroplasticity is. Steinberg cautions us against such thinking by introducing research that claims adolescence is also a period of enormous plastic potential, making it an even more crucial time in a child's life than we already imagined.
I really appreciated the level of nuance in this book. Not only does Steinberg carefully aggregate and explain a variety of studies, but he is also quick to take gender, race, and class into the equation, situating the experiences of real kids in their real environments. It is not a book that simply scares parents and leaves us hanging. Instead, Steinberg devotes a whole chapter to the idea that parents can help kids maximize their adolescent potential without turning into big clingy helicopters. The chapter, aptly titled "How parents Can Help" provides a thorough list and explanation of parenting techniques we can use to guide our children through adolescence and still help them think for themselves-- a kind of gradual release of responsibility model. His conclusion, moreover, lists clear solutions for everyone who comes into contact with adolescents, including policy makers.
My favorite chapter was "Protecting Adolescents From Themselves." Here, Steinberg details the kind of risky behavior and poor choices kids make when they are in groups. He cites case studies from his own life and practice as well as research studies that argue teens are worse drivers with friends around, are more likely to engage in risky behavior like drinking and unprotected sex when they are unsupervised with their with friends, are more likely to just generally get into trouble. This penchant for adolescent poor decision making is compounded, he argues, by the fact that lots of teens spend lots of time together without adults looking over their shoulders. The most chilling part of this argument comes when Steinberg highlights a very common, very high-risk situation that groups of teens find themselves in-- a situation that has the power to alter the course of their lives and the course of nations: war. He writes, "When soldiers are sent out on combat missions, they're often divided into fireteams composed of four warfighters. The foursome must constantly make difficult decisions, frequently under conditions of fatigue, stress, and emotional arousal-- the very circumstances that can impair an adolescent's judgment (100)." Steinberg claims to be looking for grant funding to study group decision to determine if groups that contain a mix of both adolescents and adults make better decisions, and he hopes to share that information with military planners.
I would happily recommend Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. It was a smart, informative read! Thanks TLC Book Tours for including me on your tour. My friend Kate is hosting the book tomorrow, so drop in and see her review.