PST #51: Teenage Brains



Teenage BrainsCommonly accepted wisdom says that teenage brains are all kinds of crazy. We say that they are hormonal, irrational, impulsive, rebellious, and emotional.

While this may be true, it isn’t the whole picture. Teenage brains are also pretty amazing. One of the things that makes them so amazing is that teenagers actually possess a special kind of intelligence that most adults lose as they get older.

In this week’s episode, we are going to talk about this special kind of intelligence and how it is different from the form of intelligence that adults transition to. Each kind has its strengths, and they’re not mutually exclusive. This means that we can learn to use both.

And lucky for you, you have the perfect teacher for teenage intelligence living under your roof. Tune in this week to learn how you can use your teen to sharpen this special form of intelligence and strengthen your relationship with your kid along the way. You’ll be amazed at how much your child can teach you if you let them and how your relationship will grow as a result.

Want help applying what you learned in this episode to your specific family?

Let’s hop on a free, 30 minute, no pressure call. We’ll talk about what’s happening, what you wish was happening, and how to bridge the gap. Click here to schedule.


What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • 2 major branches of intelligence. [3:03]
  • Why teens use a different kind of intelligence than adults.
  • What we are missing out on when we don’t let our kids teach us. [9:52]
  • My son’s novel homework solution. [11:49]
  • 5 Reasons you should let your teen take the lead. [16:30]
  • How to get a front row seat to their future success. [20:21]

Get a full episode transcript:

Read Full Transcript

Teenagers are my favorite age ❤️. You can learn so much from them if you let yourself. Their brains aren't undeveloped, out of control, or driven mad by hormones.

Let’s talk about teenage brains. When I say that phrase what comes to mind? Teenage brains
Not fully formed until they are 25
Dramatic
Impulsive, out of control
Hormone crazed

There’s this idea that adults brains are whole and teenaged brains are missing something. Like our brains are better than theirs. Like we have everything they have plus more.

That really burns my biscuits because it isn’t that black and white. And when we think that it is, we are also tempted to think that we know better than they do. That we have the answers. That our ideas that come from our fully developed brain are better than their ideas.

Think for a minute what that feels like when you are around someone who thinks that they know better than you how you should do things. It’s super annoying right? Take a second to think right now about that person in your life that treats you like you don’t know what you are doing. We all have that one annoying family member that is a bit of a know it all. Think about how it feels to be around them.

That’s what we become when we subscribe to the idea that teen brains don’t work as well as ours do.

Now you might be saying hold one here. I’ve heard that their prefront cortex, blah, blah, blah. And it’s true. Our

If you are over the age of 28 you do have the capability to use your prefrontal cortex to make better long term decisions. Adult brains are better at some things. But what the typical conversation about teenagers leaves out is that teenage brains are better at other things.

Let me say that again - there are things that your teenager’s brain is better at than yours. And you’d be savvy to leverage those differences to your benefit.

I’m gonna get nerdy for a minute but I want you to stay with me because this is gonna blow your mind.

There are two types of intelligence, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve problems and think flexibly in unfamiliar situations. This might be like figuring out how to get someplace for the first time. You don’t know how to get there so you have to use fluid intelligence to figure out if you should walk, or take the subway or drive. You have to figure out where to turn. How much time to plan, etc.

Teenagers have fluid intelligence in spades because so many of their situations are new situations. This is the intelligence that is fantastic for new situations. New situations are a huge part of a teenager’s life. Learning how to drive, take the SAT, get a job, apply to college, ask someone out.

Adults on the other hand specialize in crystallized intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use accumulated facts and skills. When you've driven to work so many times you can do it in your sleep - you’ve crystallized that knowledge.

So you use fluid intelligence to figure out new things. And crystallized knowledge to name the state capitals.

Another way to think of it as fluid intelligence is flexible like water and can be used in any situation. And crystallized intelligence is a crystal bowl that is full of facts and skills.

Why does this matter? Good question. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Most people in the western world over value crystallized intelligence. Especially in our digital age. We don’t want to struggle to use our brains to solve problems, we just want to google how to do it. And that makes sense because struggling to problem solve uses up a lot of energy and our brains love to be efficient.

In fact in the western world some research shows that we primarily do away with fluid intelligence by the time we are in our mid 20’s. By then we know enough that we are less open to learning new things.

It’s like we’ve learned enough and we are done. You’ve gained enough crystalized knowledge that you start to rely on that instead of creatively making connections and trying new solutions.

So not only have adults shifted from fluid intelligence to crystalized intelligence but we’ve dramatically slowed down our learning new things at all.

In fact in 2018, the Pew research group did a study and found that a quarter of American adults have not read or listened to any part of a book in the past year. No audiobooks. Didn’t start a book and get a chapter in and not finish it before Book Club. Nothing. 1 in 4 americans.

We don’t like to be challenged by new information.

And the reason is that most brains like things to be easy and certain. Easy because brains use up a lot of energy. And certain because our brain is always trying to help us survive. Uncertainty makes our brains freak out and look for certainty which we usually find by doing things we’ve always done them.

And we know this to be true. If you’ve ever been a new committee member who had an idea and had someone tell you “that’s just not how we do it.”. That is someone shot down your idea because they are relying on their crystalized knowledge.

That doesn’t make them evil. It’s just that knowing makes us feel comfortable like we’ve got a grip on something. And that’s because not knowing, makes us feel insecure.

And in many places this is fine but it can stifle creativity. And make our lives a little predictable and boring.

This is where our teenagers come in.

They are all about new things!

They are all about fluid intelligence. They are using it all the while we are cramming crystallized knowledge down their throats. Not because it’s better but because it’s what we rely on.

We, from a genuinely well intentioned place are trying to give them what we have, which is crystallized intelligence. We are trying to show them how to be successful in the world by showing them how we do it.

But we are missing out on what THEY have to share which is fluid intelligence.
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Fluid intelligence is directly linked to creativity and innovation. The book smarts of crystallized intelligence are important. They are building blocks that fluid intelligence can use. But the best solutions are a mixture of both kinds of intelligences. And too many adults - like most of them - have given up on fluid intelligence before they are even 30. We get so excited about our prefrontal cortex and our rational brain and we use it for everything. But it’s not the best suited for every problem.

Things like our current novel corona virus need novel solutions. Not drinking bleach novel solutions but out of the box thinking. Like for example when California got a bunch of broken ventilators when California was in the worst of it, they came up with a novel solution of renting trucks to take them to local companies to fix them.
Under normal circumstances we would think of shipping them back and requesting working equipment. But this is a novel situation and so we need a novel solution. These types of situations require fluid intelligence. Let me give you another example…

Once when my son had a ton of studying to do, he first asked us to buy him this book called “How to think like sherlock holmes”. He learned how to make memory palaces and memorize big quantities of information quickly.

I would have just started grinding through studying. I would have felt like there was no time to waste because I had so much to do. I would have started making flashcards and reviewing problems.

But because we were practicing transferring responsibility to him. I asked him how he was going to solve the problem. I didn’t know it at the time but I got to see fluid intelligence in action. He came at the problem of “a lot of homework” in a completely new way. He didn’t enjoy doing homework and he came up with all kinds of novel approaches to getting things done and it got me to thinking of creative, easier ways to do the work I had to get done.

So what I want you to consider this week is rather than just adults teaching kids, we need to leverage what our kids have to teach us as well.

And that requires a strong relationship. A really strong foundation of mutual respect and good communication skills. It’s worth it because that’s what creates a family that is fun to be in.

Opportunities get created where the whole family grows instead of hunkering down and just trying to get through these years without killing each other.

When you try to impose your crystallized knowledge on your kids you end up getting a “that doesn’t apply here” response.

You can lean into their fluid intelligence by asking them “so what are you going to do?” kinds of questions. Listen for how they think they could solve it.

Watching both of my kid’s fluid intelligence got me excited about trying new things. I’ve taken Spanish classes, Salsa classes, copy writing classes, meditation, belly dancing, body language decoding, surfing lessons. All kinds of stuff.

I got in the habit of growing and learning right alongside my kids. Using their fluid intelligence to make my life more interesting. Honestly that is what led me to think that I could leave corporate America and start my own business. It’s what made me think I could build a website, and do facebook lives and even start this podcast.

None of that is possible without fluid intelligence. Without a willingness to not know how to do things. And if you have a teenager they can teach you by example.

Here are a 5 reason you should let your child take the lead for trying this…

Reason 1: Recognizing that your teens have some of the answers is way, way, easier than having all the answers which is the lie the crystallized intelligence tells us. Stop learning and growing and you just live the same day over and over like that movie Ground Hog’s Day.

Honestly that’s why I’m so in love with the teen years in general is because the chaos of the teen years shakes us up. Helps us not to rely too heavily on what we “know”. They give us a live in role model on how to grow.

Bonus reason #2. If we grow right alongside our teens, by the time they are graduating high school and leaving home, we’ll be ready with a fabulous life of our own. Parents who are living vicariously through their kids, as opposed to parents who just enjoy being with their kids - because those are different things, need to start developing their own interests. Everytime you push your child to try something new, use that as a cue to do the same.

Bonus reason #3: Utilizing both kinds of intelligences is a huge competitive advantage. You will be so much better at whatever you do if you are open to new creative ideas. Even if your job is super traditional like accounting. Being a flexible thinker is a huge advantage.

Reason #4: Learning from each other lays the foundation for an adult relationship of mutual respect and interest in each other’s lives. Think about that for a moment. They live under your roof for a couple more years and then you’ve got decades of an adult of relationship. IT’s critical that you role model respect for the way they think if you want them to respect you long term.

Reason #5: You’ll have role modeled right back to them a love of life long learning that will help them keep their fluid intelligence. And help them create lives they love. Successful, independent yet connected, lives they love and lives that you remain a part of.

IT’s the best. Truly the best. Have a great week everyone and thanks for listening.