Purple Prose + YA

Inside The Teenage Brain

Last week, I talked about how teen logic and adult logic are not the same. This is an important distinction to make when you write for teens, as two of my commenters pointed out.

Riv Re: As a teen myself, I hate reading a book written about an adult in a teen's body. You're totally right, about the logic and emotions of it.

Alyssa Kirk: Also, you're right about teen logic. Myself (and all teens) can spot an unauthentic teen voice immediately and those are the books I usually don't finish.

In the book Inside the Teenage Brain, Sheryl Feinstein describes the remodelling the brain undergoes during adolescence. I’m not going to go into the neuroscience of it, though I do recommend reading the book. Sheryl does a great job explaining it in layman’s terms, and it really is fascinating.

When it comes to making decisions, teens use a different part of their brains compared to adults. Teens rely on the amygdale, which is the emotional center of the brain. Adults use their frontal lobes, which is the last part of the brain to be developed during adolescence. This is the logical part of the brain. The part that knows the difference between a good decision and a bad one.

A few other points to remember:

• There’s a huge difference between the brain of a twelve year old and the brain of a seventeen year old.

• "The teenage brain is designed for misunderstandings and misinterpretations" (page 19). Perfect for YA writers, not so great for parents.

• Impulse control develops with age. So a twelve-year-old’s self-control is going to be less than that for an older teen.

• Younger teens say one thing and then do something else, instead.

• "Teens believe they are indestructible" (page 31). Don’t believe me. Think teenage boys and cars.

• The teenage brain has the delightful (not) way of making teens feel like they’re the only ones to experience something. When a girl says to her mother: “You don’t understand. You’ve never been in love.” She actually believes it. Again, great for YA writers.

• "Older teens can better logically follow an argument than can younger teens" (page 51).

• "The emotional part of the brain doesn’t reach maturation until the person is about twenty years old" (page 51). Personally, I don’t think I’ve even reached this point. Maybe that’s why I can write YA.

Does this mean you can’t have a character who is logical? No, it doesn’t. Everyone is different. Our experiences, personalities, interests all play a role in who we are and our ability to solve problems. The point is to remain true to your characters and don’t treat them like they're mini-adults. They aren’t. Even a teen who is forced to take over the adult roles in the family, for whatever reason, is still not an adult. Her emotions will still play a role in the decision-making process, though maybe not to the same extent as for another teen.

Remember, teens want to read about believable teen characters. They don’t want to read about adults masquerading as teens. And they know when something feels real and when something's contrived.

Any additional thoughts, suggestions, or comments?

(And yes, parents, I highly recommended the book. There’s some great advice on how to make to most of the developing brain and to help your teen through those rough years. It’s the best book I’ve seen on the topic.)

best, book, L — Logic, science, voice, Writing, and more:

Inside The Teenage Brain + YA