Being a teenager is tough. When we think back to adolescence, most of us recoil at the horror of it all.
Raging hormones and an unsettling awareness of our burgeoning sexuality. A body that seems out of control. Uncertainty about who we are, what we want in life and where we fit in.
Throw into the mix the pressure of exams with the potential to dictate the rest of one’s life — well, who on earth would want to go through it again.
Seriously, it is unquestionably bad timing that, just as young people are contending with huge emotional and physical change, we burden them further with the curse of GCSEs.
GCSEs could not be scheduled at a worse time for teenagers because of their hormones
Neuroscientist Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore certainly thinks so. This week, she went so far as to suggest that from a neurological perspective, the exams should be scrapped because they come at the worst possible time in adolescent development.
While I wouldn’t predict the death of GCSEs any time soon, Professor Blakemore is right. Key parts of the teenage brain are still quite immature.
Your child might look and talk like an adult, but scans show the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and is undergoing change until well into the 20s. This part of the brain is emotional high command; the seat of impulse control, of foreseeing and judging consequences of behaviour, of initiating appropriate behaviour and inhibiting inappropriate behaviour, and of controlling our reaction to people and events.
Its relative immaturity is why teenagers behave the way they do. A teenager may understand that a particular action is wrong or dangerous, but they lack the hardwiring in their brain to properly process these thoughts in the way an adult does.
It is why youngsters make particularly good Army recruits, because the prefrontal cortex that assesses risk is still immature (and why so many have quit by their mid-20s as the risk assessment part of the brain matures). Our greater understanding of the adolescent brain has many implications; for example in debates around the age of consent or giving the vote to 16-year-olds.
I take a multivitamin every morning — but yet another study this week tells me that I am wasting my time and my money.
Researchers found no clear benefit in taking vitamin supplements (except for vitamin D), and say that we should focus instead on improving our diet.
But isn’t that the point? While we know we should be gobbling up plenty of fruit, veg, fibre, oily fish, beans and lentils etc, all too often, our busy lifestyles intervene.
So do I feel better since I started taking a dietary supplement? The answer is a resounding yes.
In my view, the psychological power of pill-popping cannot be underestimated — and my daily multivitamin is why I feel entirely relaxed about opting for a banoffee pie instead of a banana.
I know most teenagers would be furious at the suggestion, but brain scans don’t lie. From a neurological perspective, youngsters are impaired in their judgment.
That’s why I worry about their easy access to online pornography. While an adult can view porn and, in the majority of cases, understand that this is not a blueprint for human relationships, the thinking of teenagers can be warped by this exposure.
The impact of violent video games on young brains is also a concern, while the uninhibited use of social media, posting messages and, in some cases, inappropriate pictures of themselves, should alarm every parent.
That’s the downside, but there is a positive to be taken from this. I’ve seen many teenagers with severe mental health problems who, given time, get better. Of course, mental health support helps, but really what’s happened is their neurological development has caught up and enabled them to regulate their emotions.
I’ve noticed this particularly in cases of self-harm, in which some youngsters resort to injuring themselves as a way