The Age of Opportunity deals with the adolescent period of development, enumerating the growth the brain goes through physically, as well as potential boons/ pitfalls that can occur psychologically. To be honest, when I was asked to read this book for a blog review, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I figured it would be dry, and less than riveting. But I also knew it would be informative, and it might be nice to have some advice about the upcoming years before they are actually here. Unlike the stacks of young children parenting books I still haven’t gotten around to reading.
Thankfully, I was mostly wrong. The book was very informative, but it was also a pleasure to read. Laurence Steinberg’s writing style is easy to read (if somewhat repetitive), and the material was fascinating. It definitely had a bit of an alarmist bent to it: I’m slightly more terrified that we are going to irreparably damage our kids before they grow up than I ever was when dealing with them as babies. But it also has tons of easy, helpful advice for how to help them navigate this period of extreme mental fragility and growth successfully.
Turns out the years of adolescent development are just as crucial in terms of brain development as the years from birth to age 3 (think about that- NO PRESSURE), but they are much more neglected in terms of society and parental pressure. And they last up to 5 times as long. This book not only covered the physiological and cultural reasons that adolescence is now lasting longer than it ever has previously, but also why that can be a positive (or negative) thing, depending on how it’s treated. The author discusses ways that society gets it wrong in our treatment of young people in this phase of life, and also how we can use the newest discoveries in neurobiology to help inform us and correct our mistakes. It’s likely you will finish this book on fire to reform everything- the school system, the legal age limits, how the judicial system currently reacts toward adolescent offenders. It was definitely hard not to look at this one narrow slice of information and not be desperate to avoid the misguided thinking that has determined so much of the infrastructure as it pertains to adolescents.
One encouraging aspect (for me at least), was that our current parenting style already fits nicely in to his parameters for raising healthy, self-regulating individuals. Phew. It was nice to know that we are on the right track instinctually, and of course to get a few pointers on how to maintain a positive home life and parent/child relationship. Nothing seems as fraught with peril as navigating the teen years, and nowadays mistakes are so much more visible and harder to recover from. There are some nightmares stories in this book of kids making foolish decisions that end up ruining their entire lives FOR YEARS. Yikes!
All in all, I highly recommend this book. It was very interesting (I think I talked my husband’s eat off the night I finished trying to impart all of the science as well as the cultural effects discussed- until I realized he totally didn’t care and wasn’t listening), and it offered some very helpful insight into how and why adolescents behave the ways they do. We’ve always known that teenagers can be moody and irrational, but now I know exactly why that is true. And I know some actions to take to help prevent my kids falling into the traps of peer pressure or suffering the affects of bullies, and hopefully encourage avoidance of drugs and alcohol. I may be more concerned about the upcoming years (seriously- only 4 years until Isabelle is a teenager?!?), and WAY more stressed about just how critical, and how easily detailed that development can be, but I also feel slightly more prepared to handle its challenges. Not bad for one 200 page book.
note: I was provided with a copy of the book for purposes of review. All opinions and typos are my own