I teach an online undergraduate course in American Studies at Purdue University, and today we’re reading a chapter from Julie Elman’s book Chronic Youth on teen brains. Elman argues that even though we’ve always talked about teen behavior craziness since about the 1890s when the concept of adolescence emerges, in the 1980s and 1990s a shift happens due to the advancement of neuroscience technology in which brain scans of teenagers are used to “prove” teenage craziness and/or normalcy.
During this historical context, brain scans were used to portray teenage brains as under developed, or “disabled” – often distorting the “collective care” rhetoric and principles of the national disability movement and reducing them to anecdotes of teenage emotional spazzes. In looking at visualizing information, Elman evidences how brain scans are called in to “prove” teenage insanity in the Columbine and other school shooting trials, while general racism is used to “prove” juvenile delinquency in youths of color. The problem, Elman argues, is that this seemingly objective science is used to reinforce racial, class, and gender stereotypes.
Since my students and I are having a fun conversation about teenage crisis, you should check out their findings by following the #amst201youth hashtag on Tumblr or by following my Tumblr blog here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/
In anticipation of their reading responses, I did a quick Google search for “teenage brain infographic,” and boy did I find a crap-ton of visuals arguing different things. Let’s see what we find.
According to this graphic, teenage brains are under construction, with lots of confidence, little judgement, and not enough consideration of their fellow teenage swimmers. Ya drowned, Bieber.
Teenagers are “obese,” “suffering” from back pain, and love “attention-stealing” devices. They will undoubtedly, as this infographic demonstrates, be prone to arthritis and old age blindness due to all the time they spent looking at screens. Ya blind, Taylor Swift.
And the New Yorker thinks kids are consumed with social media, rap, and hot white actresses (no offense Scarlet).
And there are more! Do your own Google search for “teenage brain infographic” or check out some images I posted to my Tumblr here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/. There are tongs of different ways that teenage brains are being used to “prove” that teenagers are violent, narcissistic, technology-driven, and prone to dangerous behavior despite tons of examples of teens on the ground demonstrating their eagerness to help others, advocate for political change, and promote positive consumption. How can we visualize those teens’ brains? And what does it mean to visualize teenage brain “normalcy”? If you visualized your brain, what would you find? Obsessions, habits, fears, drives, and memories? My brain scan would probably reveal a pie chart similar to this:
Make your own brain pie chart at https://www.meta-chart.com/pie. My husband also decided that he would make a pie chart of his brain after reading this post. Eye roll.