Being pregnant, I’ve become aware of several areas where evolution has either slacked off a little or failed utterly to come up with a sensible solution. Obviously pregnancy is one of those areas. Humans started walking upright but failed to develop a means of procreation that didn’t involve heartburn, back pain, hemorrhoids, and the inability to tie your tennis shoes. I’m amazed were able to survive because if I were at this moment on the Serengeti trying to avoid a predator, with my diminished lung capacity and screwed up center of gravity, I’d be toast.
Pregnancy is not the only flawed process evolution has led us to. What master planner thought it was a good idea to combine adult bodies and still developing brains? Because this is the plight of the teenager. A creature frequently misunderstood and the cause of many car insurance claims. After only four months of working with teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old, there is no doubt in my mind that I am working with children. Children who can grow beards.
Many if not most of my students would (and I’m sure will after they read this) vehemently disagree. When in class I have addressed them as “children”, perhaps while they were poking each other in the ribs or making snot-like balls of glue at their desks, they have protested. They adamantly state, “No teacher, we’re not children,” while painting their fingernails with white out. Limited class time and a heavy curriculum keeps me from having the time to explain to them that, yes, they in fact are children and it is in no way meant to be an insult. It is a reminder to myself that while many of my students may look like adults, towering several inches above me or with a few days worth of stubble on their chins, they do not have the brain of an adult. I need to adjust my expectations accordingly.
Science backs me up. Research seems to agree that 25 years is the age at which a human brain fully matures. Recent studies have shown a significant difference between the brains of an 18 year old and a 25 year old, specifically in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is in charge of decision making, determining right-from wrong, predicting the future and exerting self-control. All things teenagers are notoriously bad at doing.
Again, I say that evolution really screwed up by giving people fully functioning reproductive systems before fully functional brains. That is just really terrible planning.
I think teenagers themselves should be out promoting this fact. The world would probably go a lot easier on them if people started looking at them and thinking “old kid” as opposed to “young adult.” When a kid sits quietly through a movie without disturbing anyone, they’re praised. Well according to the research, a teenager who can think “Maybe I should not spend this movie texting my friends because it might disturb someone,” should be praised as well. Thinking beyond themselves and predicting the future are difficult tasks for their immature brains. “Way to think about possible future consequences of your actions, little Johnny! Good job!”
It is hard to remember these facts. I can’t help but expect someone with a size 12 shoe to be able to reason. But for all the frustration that begins to bubble when I’m presented with their faulty logic (“You want me to give an extension because you were really busy the day the essay was due? What about the other 13 days you had between when I gave the assignment and when it was due?), I truly am impressed by my students. Because when I do remember that they are older kids with a decade’s worth of brain development still in front of them, I realize the fact they sit through 10 hours of class a day is amazing. The fact that they spend several afternoons sitting in classes taught in a second language is amazing.
So, I’ll do my part for my students by lowering everyone’s expectations because currently my pregnant belly and I are in the same boat as they are. Evolution has failed us miserably.