Teenage Brains….Delicious Brainsssss


So (sadly?) this post is not about teen zombies. It is however about teen brains. Weird topic right? But two weeks ago I talked about being amazed by learning about baby brains and you know what? Teenage brains and how they function are pretty interesting. It also explains a lot about when I was younger.

Let’s go to the book: Sex, Brains, and Video Games by Jennifer Burek Pierce. I loved learning about Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, Harvard researcher, who looked at “teen and adult abilities to interpret facial expressions” (35). What she learned is that teens frequently couldn’t interpret nonverbal cues between fear, anger, and other emotions. In fact, the younger the teen the more they got it wrong. In contrast, adults could correct read people’s faces. The conclusion was that adults use their prefrontal cortexes to figure out expressions but teens’ weren’t involved as much. Teens therefore were using another part of their brain to figure out what they were seeing.

The author suggests that since surveys keep bringing up that teens see librarians as being mean and we’re told to be friendlier, it’s possible that teens are misreading our faces and thinking that our “concentration” face is really our “I’m pissed” face. Isn’t that interesting?

I think back to an experience I had at the YS desk. We always get middle school boys on the computer that sometimes get too loud or use inappropriate language for the kids floor. One evening, after being told once or twice to keep it down, everyone was great for the rest of the evening. I thought since we were always “yelling” at them to keep it down that I should tell them that they were really great. When I walked over and told them it was wonderful how great they were this evening and we really appreciated it, a regular tween looked at me with suspicious and doubt in his eyes and said “Are you being sarcastic?”

I thought this was so funny. I was being sincere and heartfelt and he didn’t get it. And you know what? Now I have a better idea of how he might have been reading me.

Does knowing about teen brains help our interactions with teen patrons? I think it will a bit. Understanding how they develop can help us in understanding what they are going through. It gave me insight into the exchange I related about. It makes me pay attention to my facial cues. What else is going to help our interactions? Remembering what we were like as teens.


2 responses »

  1. Cheryl- I think you make an excellent point here-how know about brains at different stages it helps us to serve our populations better! Being a youth services librian is unique in the fact that you will have to work with every stage of human being-from infant to adult, and they each will be in your youth section for different reasons. A little bit of awareness doesn’t mean we have to excuse every behavior, but it does mean that we can understand what is happening, why its happening, and the kindest way to deal with it. Thanks for making me think about the relevance of all this “brain-stuff.”

  2. Along with facial expressions – which tend to reflect our emotions, we have to decide how we are going to approach our teen patrons. While working in my school, I have noticed that the woman that works with me at the help desk (she’s in her 60s) and I approach our teen patrons quite differently. We both come from a place of wanting to help our patrons, there is no question about that, but she is a little more experienced than I am, so she’s a little more… I hate to say jaded…. she just has a shorter span for patience. Excessive talking, surfing the web, and drinking from a water bottle aren’t terrible infractions tend to be behaviors that my co-worker shuts down immediately. When working in a school library, you have to follow a lot more disciplinary rules than say, a public library. If a student is eating in our library, we have to write them a referral, and they receive a punishment. I think students should be able to surf the web freely, or drink from their water bottle, or talk to another student – all within reason. Their behavior should still follow the rules of the school: no inappropriate internet use, etc. We just interpret the rules differently, and in turn, she gets labeled the “mean” librarian, with some students, and I’m the “nice” librarian. She tends to scowl, and I tend to smile. I think we have to great our patrons positively and pleasantly, we can’t automatically assume they are going to be troublemakers. I’ve nipped a lot of bad behavior in the bud this semester, because I actively pursued the potential troublemakers with friendliness and showed them that I’m someone that is interested in them and what they have to say. I ask them how their week or weekend was, how classes are, or about some other topic we have already established.

    If we approach our teen patrons with a positive demeanor, then we’ll have friendly body language, and we’ll create a connection with the teen patrons that will help established a good relationship.

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