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Tapping Into the Teenage Brain: Time

#braindevelopment #highschool #middleschool #parentingteens #neuroscience #teachingteens #teenbrain #theteenagebrainthing Oct 01, 2023

As I write this, it’s Sunday evening and I’m preparing (like so many of you) for another week of busy. The schedule this week is pretty packed, with meetings, school work, family time and self-care. As I worked throughout the day to get ready for the week, my husband and I made our plans for dinner and once again, our teens found other things to do than hang out with us. For what seems like the 5th time this week, both teens went out in the afternoon with friends, or to run errands, and they both said they’d “handle dinner” on their own.


So it got me thinking about some data I read in the book The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans: How to Decode Their Behavior, Develop Trust, and Raise a Respectable Adult by Josh Shipp. I remembered there was a passage pretty early on in the book about the amount of time that young people spend with their parents. In that passage, Shipp states that “kids [elementary age children] get about 57 minutes per day with Mom and Dad combined”, but by the time they’re teenagers, “Teens get about 20 minutes per day” (Shipp, 9). Schipp cites information from the Search Institute and when I went looking for updated information (as that information is from 2017), I found some really interesting data from a different source about who we spend our time with in general across all ages. (see graph below; link is attached). 

The data, which includes surveys from 2009 to 2019, is really interesting, and not at all surprising. (Note: these surveys were conducted before the pandemic; with the increase in isolation that so many young people felt during the pandemic, these numbers would undoubtedly be different). 


When you break it down by category (alone, with family, with partner, etc.) it basically makes sense. The younger we are, the more time we spend with family, and the older we are, the more time we spend alone (accounting for death of loved ones, etc.). The earliest age documented through these surveys is 15; one thing it doesn’t include is time with teachers which would be interesting data to look at. My stepson is still in school, so if you account for the six classes he’s taking this semester at 45 minutes each, he’s spending 270 minutes each day with his teachers. That’s a LOT of influence those teachers have on him just in time alone. 


As I write this at my desk on a Sunday night, I’ve just listened to my husband call both kids and let them know when they need to be home. Both are out with friends (one with a prospective partner) and factoring in work, their own alone time, and some random chores, I don’t think my husband and I have seen either for more than 20 minutes or so today. Yet five years ago, we probably would have been jealous of all of this time apart from them. 


Although The Teenage Brain Thing is designed to support educators, thinking about the concept of time in terms of the parent/teen relationship in this way should mean something for teachers. You have so much power in just the TIME you spend with those teens. Consider how you’re spending your time, what you’re doing to help their brains grow and develop, and how you’re challenging them. Parents - like me - appreciate that, in so many ways.


Now my task is to make sure everyone stays home for dinner tomorrow night :) 

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