Posted by: zhak39 | May 3, 2008

Neuroscience and the Adolescent part II

Part I of Neuroscience and the Adolescent explores recognition of the effect of activity in different sites of the brain, specifically the disconnect between the area that instigates desire and that which enjoys satisfaction. (Despite the title, it’s not as ‘brainy’ as it sounds.) Part II reveals the development of higher order thinking skills, the balance of rationality built on trust over the coarser grasping nature of a less mature brain, and the growing ability of an adolescent to postpone gratification. This was illustrated on my son’s 14th birthday as we stood outside the department of motor vehicles waiting in the December late afternoon stillness to buy a picture id in order for him to get his ears pierced at a tattoo parlor.

We could have gone to a piercing kiosk to have Chris’s ears done. After all, he had been bugging his dad about getting earrings for eight years now. Family history says once you get the go-ahead, get it done quickly before the warranty runs out on dad’s good grace. It might have been expedient to run, not walk, to any mall USA the very minute his dad finally said, yeah, all right already. We didn’t have to wait until the actual birthday or pack brother, sister and visiting Nanna in the car. We would’t have had to brave the pitted 80 degree driveway to KingPin on (brrrrr) Lee Street. We could have avoided the gauntlet of freshly inked smoke enshrouded hangers-on by the backdoor. We did it because it’s not just the end result, it is the experience. It is demonstrating to a jaded teenager that there is something new under the sun when we decide to perceive life that way. It’s mom reminding the kids that every day is another chance for adventure.

But of course there are obstacles in every path. Standing in that snaking line after 4 in the afternoon we talked about the challenges we had faced that day

“We’re making progress, bud.”

“We’re not even to the door, mom”

“Yea, but this morning when the tattoo shop was closed and we went to the mall for clothes you thought I was just going to have you jabbed with some poseur stud at the kiosk. Right?”

“Well I read they don’t clean the guns they use at the mall and you can get a bad infection. You don’t want me to get an infection.”

“Um hm. Apparently, we’re standing out here freezing our behinds for your health.”

“I can’t believe that they finally opened KingPin then they called you a liar mom.”

That afternoon on our second visit to the shop we piled past the sign saying “all patrons must present a valid ‘I.D.'” and approached a woman with so many studs lining the bridge of her nose she looked like a Klingon.

“What kind of I.D. do you need?” I asked her.

“How old are you kid?” she asked Chris.

“Fourteen,” he said with pride as his eyes feasted on the studs, loops, and wires that decorated her head.

“Two forms of I.D., a social card, birth certificate, that kind of thing, and a picture I.D. from a school or motor vehicles.”

“Chris, you get a school card with your picture?”


“How about his social security card, his birth certificate and my driver’s license and I vouch for him because I’m his mother?”

“No can do.”

“You can’t? But I am his mother. I wouldn’t lie.”

She was actually reasonable. She explained that I could be using an older brother’s birth certificate. That she had no doubt that we were what we claimed but there are health issues involved. That doing certain piercings too young can lead to deformities as the child’s head grows and changes shape.

“I want to decorate people,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

We live twenty miles from town. We needed to pick up some chocolate for the birthday cake, get Nanna home for her afternoon rest, get some corned beef simmering for Poppy’s dinner, bake the cake. To-dos always outnumber the Dones. I could feel his disappointment so I reassured him

“We can do this, bud. You need an I.D. from the dmv. It’s only ten bucks. We need to bring some paperwork for them. It’s just a time thing.”

A younger brain does not grasp linear time. On the other hand, this adolescent has already had some experience with disappointment. In either case, these delays of gratification can spell meltdown and emotional distress. It takes the development of rationality to disperse the rising electrical activity associated with heightened emotional tension.

His eyes are so clear, that boy. Though he’s now slightly taller than me, we look each other eye to eye.

“I know mom,” he says with equanimity, eyes shining with optimism and trust. “We’ll get it done.”

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