Magazine article Information Today

Teenage Brains on the Loose

Magazine article Information Today

Teenage Brains on the Loose

Article excerpt

Teenage Brains on the Loose Sex, Brains, and Video Games: A Librarian's Guide to Teens in the Twenty-first Century by Jennifer Burek Pierce Chicago: ALA, 2008 ISBN: 978-0-8389-0951-5 130 pages; $35, softcover

Most of us encounter teenagers on a regular basis whether they are our own children, students at our schools, or kids on the street. Sometimes they act differently than older people, even if they already look like adults. They may seem noisy, rude, or sullen. Librarians have traditionally put services to teens in the special category of Young Adult (YA), but how does that fit into today's world? Who are these "young adults," and how can libraries provide what they want and need?

Jennifer Burek Pierce is assistant professor of library and information science at the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on adolescent information needs, and she writes the column Youth Matters for American Libraries magazine. She has also worked with teens in several public library systems. With this background, she is amply qualified to tell us about the current state of YA services in libraries. In the introduction, she states, "Library services to young adults should aspire to two fundamental objectives: to engage young people through meaningful and appealing responses to their recreational and information needs, while supporting good developmental outcomes." This is quite a task.

Debunking a Few Myths

After a brief review of the history of YA services in libraries, Burek Pierce moves on to a general overview of today's American teen. She starts by listing some myths about today's teens and debunking them, such as "teenagers are all but adults" and "teens hate their parents."

This leads to a discussion of the adolescent brain. Contrary to the old view that the teen brain was pretty much like an adult's, recent neuroscience research shows that "the changes taking place in adolescent brains are dynamic rather than subtle." One key change is the increasing and then decreasing numbers of neural pathways. This makes adolescence a time of plasticity for the brain, when the person is figuring out ways to deal with situations and emotions. As we age, pathways that are used are reinforced and others disappear in a process known as pruning. In adulthood, we essentially end up being hard-wired for those skills and activities we practice during the teen years. Teens also have challenges with risk-taking behavior, especially under high-stress or emotionally charged conditions. They are still learning to make difficult choices.

An important aspect of YA services today is the use of all types of media, from video games to iPods. …

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