Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Will you be my frontal lobe?

WARNING: This post contains scientific material.
Bonus: There will NOT be any sort of exam.

I attended a CE (continuing education) course last Friday, about Prescription and OTC drug abuse and addiction. I usually take my crossword or sudoku book to these things but this one was actually interesting. So here's the low down. . .kids have brain damage. Yes, Bill Cosby was right, it's "BRAIN DAMAGE!" So all the stupid things I did are excused right? Well, not really, but there is some pretty interesting medical reasons why teenagers do some dumb things.

Here's where the science comes in. . .so, in the central part of your brain is an area called the limbic system. It develops earlier that previously thought. This part of the brain is most concerned with reward. That makes sense huh? Kids and teens are HUGE on reward. Me, me, me. This part of the brain also controls sensory and physical development. (ok, the physical development was a little later in me, but that's beside the point.)

They have also found that the "frontal lobe" portion of the brain develops later than previously thought. This part of your brain controls judgement. The specific areas are involved in inhibitory control of behavior. Basically being able to stop yourself from doing something stupid, that you know is wrong. The speaker showed several teenagers from a documentary saying that they knew what they were doing was wrong, and they couldn't really come up with an answer for why they did it, other than they tried it and got hooked.

Here's where the speaker said something that made total sense and I wish more parents could hear it. "PARENTS NEED TO BE THE FRONTAL LOBE FOR THEIR CHILDREN!" (Now, this doesn't mean they can go off the deep end like "Jane's Dad." I'm talking about being reasonable here.)

I was recently released as the 2nd counselor in the Young Womens program of our church. I can't believe the struggles that young girls go through now. I thought I had it rough. I've been to several events at the high schools and I just want to smack half of the teenage kids across the head for the things they are doing and saying. And even me, a grown mother of 3, felt insecure around some of those girls. I would often tell my girls over and over what amazing young women they were and that I was so thankful for the strength that they were able to show amidst all the trauma and "drama" that goes on around them. Of course in every group there are some that struggle. One in particular had a mom that was a "friend" first, and by her own admittance had chosen that road and found herself in a tough position, "It's too late. They already walk all over me."

I also have big issues with parents being "friends." I love my kids but I also love them enough to be a parent. I can be fun and play and talk with them about anything but when it comes down to it, I'm their mother. There are a couple of commercials running now that I love. The first one talks about this exact thing, the tag line says, "Your kids have enough friends, they need a parent." Imagine that, what a novel idea right? You birthed that child, how about take care of it like a parent!!! I can't remember what company it is for but there is also one running now talking about kids and drinking. I was floored that it actually was saying it's NOT ok for kids to be drinking ANYWHERE. It's NOT ok for them to be drinking at your house, so you "know where they are". YEAH! Someone is getting it. This was another thing our speaker talked about. We mainly focused on prescription drugs, etc, but he also mentioned a lot about alcohol, as well as the OTC drugs. There are too many people that say "It's ok, kids are going to experiment. I experimented, so they will too." He said emphatically, "IT'S NOT OK FOR KIDS TO "EXPERIMENT". With ANYTHING! Sex, drugs, alcohol, prescription pills." Think about what is happening in their brain. Even though they may understand what is right and wrong, their brain may not have the ability to emotionally do the right thing. (Hopefully they are in an environment to allow the spirit to guide them.) Not only may they be reacting because of the reward system in their brain, but their inhibitory control is not developed yet.

One area of the brain that drugs affect is called the "amygdala" and is crucial in emotional and behavioral learning. He told a story of a man he had helped get into rehab. He had a genius IQ, and had been hooked on heroin since about age 14. He was in a 6 month program and our speaker got a call from one of the doctors when the patient was ready to go home. They had no idea what to do with him or where to send him. His emotional and behavioral maturity was that of an 7 year old. He had been using heroin so long that this area of his brain had no chance of recovery. Once the drugs were out of his system, they had a reality check of what state his brain was really in.

Here's another interesting thing about the "reward pathway" in our brain. There is an actual molecular switch that is thrown in the brain when there is a hit on the reward area that is tied to whatever it was (drugs, alcohol, shoplifting, sex, pornography) that caused the surge in dopamine. Once that switch is thrown it cannot be turned off. This is why even just "experimenting" is so dangerous. Our speaker was giving a speech to some dental students about drug abuse and had brought a cocaine addict that had been clean for 20 years. During the speech he showed a picture of the white powder. After the lecture was over the addict came up to him and told him that even after 20 years, just seeing a picture of the cocaine made him crave it. No wonder we live in the world of drugs, alcohol and pornography that we do. It's everywhere, and even those that have struggled and made it out of addiction, have to deal with seeing those images everyday, and trying not to fall back into it.

I'm so thankful to have the word of wisdom and the standards that our church holds. I would often tell the YW that even if they don't have a testimony of it yet, to live it, and if they needed to, to use the church as the "excuse", or even me, their leader, of why they can't smoke, drink, have sex, etc. If we could get them to the point where their frontal lobe could work for itself, (and they can come to an understanding of the gospel principles or even the actual medical reasons that it happens), they would be able to realize how smart those decisions are, and how the spirit can guide them to a testimony of it.

What a blessing to have the spirit to guide my life and that my children are able to be in an environment to feel the spirit and recognize when it can help them know if something is not a good decision.

Ok, I'm off to get busy being an appropriate frontal lobe. Wish me luck.


~j. said...

I've heard Dr. Phil say this over and over again, that teenagers don't have the cognitive ability to determine the consequences of their actions.

Of course, I've also heard Dr. Phil say, "You can put feathers on a dog; that don't make it a chicken!"

Did they mention anything about trying to explain this to the teenagers directly? "Suzie, I want you to understand this scientific phenomenon about yourself. It's for these reasons that you will spend the next six years chained to my ankle."

AzĂșcar said...

I don't know if they did, but the guy who headed our company explained it to his kids. He told them all that they have an under-developed frontal lobe. You should have heard the conversations with his teenage daughter. She'd suggest something to him and then she'd say, "I know Dad, no frontal lobe, no frontal lobe." Every time the kids would go out with friends he'd remind them that their lobes were under developed and therefore all decisions were to be doubly scrutinized. Hey...it's worked so far!

Lorien said...

I taught Junior High kids, and I just figured that around 7th grade their brain was severed from the rest of their body, and then finally started re-fusing again somewhere around their Junior year in high school (give or take--some are slower re-fusers than others).

Seriously, it's good to know there are some physiological reasons to explain screwy behavior. Thanks for the post. I'll be using this one with my kids, I think. "Now, don't ask again. You know the condition of your frontal lobe!"

Oh, and don't even get me started on the parents-who-won't-parent thing! Drives me nuts!

Queen Scarlett said...

Thank you! I've never heard this... but it makes so much sense. I love that when she's old enough I can tell her... sorry - your decisions are suspect... but I'm your frontal lobe... I like that. At this stage I'm collecting all the parenting tips/advice I can in preparation for ... the apocolypse (when they get older).

lisa v. clark said...

The WISDOM Bill Cosby taught us all. . . a man ahead of his time I tell you! (I still think chocolate cake for breakfast is okay: It has milk, eggs. . . )

I need to print this off for future reference (ie FHE on "why I'm the boss")

wendysue said...

That's it, I'm making a new sign for the area by the front door, so the kids see it as they go out. . you know just like "Return With Honor", except it'll say "All persons with an under-developed front lobe will have their decisions doubly scrutinized."

And Lisa, dont' forget the Jello Pudding Pops!! Maybe this sign could go next to the ever-famous "No Putdowns" sign??