Teenagers: Actually A Worthwhile Part Of Society?

As a former high school teacher, I know intimately how unpredictable the behavior of a human teenager can be. I’d often bang my head against my classroom door half laughing, half crying, at the end of a long day. No age group could make me so amused, excited, and utterly frustrated all at the same time. One minute my students and I would joke and converse like adults and I would marvel at their creativity, depth, and humor. Five minutes later I’d have to confiscate 20 bags of Fire Hot Cheetos and scold them for smearing dirty fingers all over my classroom walls like three-year-olds. In short, those dang teenagers are a mystery. But did you know that in addition to being a behavioral anomaly, teenagers are also a scientific one? In a New Scientist article called “The Ten Mysteries of You,” one of the featured mysteries is the mere existence of the teenager. What would you say if I told you that we are the only species that even has teenagers? I’d say, “Phew!” followed by “Really?” Even our distant relatives, the apes, get to skip all the mood swings and awkward moments. Researchers believe that adolescence emerged somewhere between 800,000 and 300,000 years ago—really close to the time when our brains expanded to be the size they are today. Whoa … that means that adolescence might have actually helped us evolve? We know from brain imaging that from the ages of 12 to 20 the brain reorganizes itself, making itself capable of more complex thinking and behavior. The scientific purpose of adolescence seems to be developing a mind capable of thinking and dealing with things that only humans do. “Without teenagers we would never have become fully human,” says David Bainbridge of the University of Cambridge. “They are the most important part of human life.”

Next time you want to kill that special teen in your life, just remember that. Although, if they are obsessing over the Jonas Brothers while texting and hiding underneath a hoodie, it could be difficult. [New Scientist]