Among the most interesting developments in neuro-science in recent years has been the study of the human brain, which can now be examined in great detail with the progress in medical technology. The study of the adolescent brain has yielded especially fascinating results.
Teenagers have been scolded for lounging in bed for hours, and neuroscience is now telling us why: their brains need much more sleep than we realise. They’re not just being lazy.
Adolescents have also been noted, through the ages, for risk-taking behaviour. Whether it’s rushing off to join wars – some volunteers in World War I were only 14 or 15 – or boy racers revving up vehicles to recklessly fast speeds, that’s what teens do.
Teenage pregnancy has always been a cause for concern, in all societies, because it’s been well-observed that youngsters are more given to impulsive behaviour.
And now neuroscientists know why: their brains are not finished developing until the age of about 25.
As an influential paper by three neuroscientists states: “In the last decade, a growing body of longitudinal neuroimaging research has demonstrated that adolescence is a period of continued brain growth and change, challenging longstanding assumptions that the brain was largely finished maturing by puberty,” write Johnson, Blum and Giedd in ‘Adolescent Maturity and the Brain’ published in a medical journal about adolescent health.
The human brain, they state, is not matured until about half-way through the third decade of life – that’s about age 25.
The frontal lobes of the brain, which direct judgement, planning and impulse control, are the last to mature.
On a personal note, I can certainly identify with that. I was as wild as a march hare during those years when my brain was struggling to mature!
This new knowledge about the adolescent brain is crucial to public policy about young people, and it is surely highly relevant to the subject of transgendering from one sex to another. If teenagers are prone to risk and impulse, and less able to handle planning and judgement, shouldn’t any decision about changing sex be deferred until their brain has matured?
Science says adolescent judgements in life-changing matters are likely to be risky and immature”
So could somebody please submit this information to the Fine Gael LGBT policy group proposing that children under the age of 16 should be able to legally change their gender?
If individuals seek to alter their gender, either by surgery or by declaring that they identify with a different sex than assigned at birth, there is legal provision to do so. But here, surely, is a primary case for ‘following the science’: and the science says adolescent judgements in life-changing matters are likely to be risky and immature.
Sixteen is just too young.
Foster not afraid to speak on the value of life
When Arlene Foster [pictured] was asked by Andrew Marr on BBC TV last Sunday if she was “embarrassed” that abortion pills for DIY home abortions weren’t available in Northern Ireland, she immediately replied: “No, I’m not embarrassed. We value life in Northern Ireland and we offer support to women with crisis pregnancies.”
She said all this with a positive attitude, not the least bit ashamed of defending her values affirmatively. She spoke with simple sincerity and kindness.
It’s a welcome move, too, that Sinn Féin has come out against abortion for non-fatal foetal abnormalities. It is a recognition that many threatened disabilities can now be corrected, and people with disabilities are deserving not only of respect, but of life.
Operations to correct a cleft palate in a newborn or young child are now usually very successful, as is surgery for a club foot.
At Westminster, the Conservative MP Fiona Bruce is seeking to halt abortions – often well after 24 weeks – which take place because of these disabilities. It’s unsure if she will succeed.
Not such an ‘ugly duckling’ after all!
I love ‘ugly duckling’ stories about unpromising starts in life and triumphs over failure, and an enchanting one appears in the classic memoir of Irish country life in the 1930s, David Thomson’s Woodbrook.
Anyone who bred horses could face years of risk and debt, even teetering on bankruptcy, as happened at the Kirkwood estate in Co. Roscommon. And then a “rather ugly foal” was born. Its pedigree was considered mediocre: its maternal grandsire was a “fearfully bad-tempered animal” and its dam’s breeding was thought to be below par.
The unprepossessing nag nearly got sold off, but luckily it was kept, and was named, perhaps ironically at first, The White Knight.
It went on to win the Curragh Grand Prize for two-year-olds, the Ascot Gold Cup twice, the Goodwood Cup and won several times at races in Epsom and Newmarket. The White Knight then went to stud and kept the old estate in profit for years afterwards.
There’s a Biblical ‘ugly duckling’ story, too: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
It occurs in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.