Teenagers sometimes seem like a different species. We know the clichés about being moody, sleeping in until the afternoon and doing crazy things like driving cars too fast. Other family members will often accuse the teenager of being lazy, they’ll get irritated by them and, often, be worried about them. But the latest scientific research suggests this probably isn’t their fault. Not only do they have a rush of hormones running round their bodies, their brains are still developing, and their minds simply don’t work the same as an adult’s mind.
Which is strange, because it is well known that the concept of the “teenager” is a modern construct, with even the word not being used until the twentieth century. Teenagers really came into their own after the Second World War and the end of national service when they took on jobs, started to earn a bit of money and had access to things like rock music and cars, which their parents had never had. They started to rebel against the old fuddy-duddy ways of the older generation, and these rebels were celebrated in 1950s Hollywood films like The Wild Bunch and Rebel Without A Cause.
This new breed of “teenager” may have been a shock to adults, but that period of a person’s life must have always existed, it’s just that it was hidden in the past. Only modern technology and education allowed them to express it.
We all know about the release of hormones a teenager experiences, leading to mood swings, falling-head-over-heels in love, then being devastated when the love affair breaks up, and so on. It also seems this hormone surge could be why teenagers have that annoying habit of being late and spending all weekend in bed. They need sleep. One of the reasons the body is pumping hormones around the bloodstream is to promote growth, and one thing that they need to grow is sleep. It may appear they’re being lazy or have no concept of time-keeping, but they actually need more sleep than adults (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/articles/lifecycle/teenagers/sleep.shtml).
At the same time, new MRI scans of the teenage brain reveal how it is not as developed as the adult brain, which can explain much about teenage behaviour. The part of the brain which adults use to plan, anticipate and control emotions is the last thing to develop, which is why so many teenagers are bad at this sort of thing (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13425236). This can cause problems in things like planning revision for exams, or making the right choices to lead to a career. More seriously, it can lead to dire consequences when teenagers fail to foresee the result of their actions. For example, teenage boys who get into a fight often have no thoughts of what will happen to them if they seriously injure the other person. In times when so many teenagers are carrying knives — or even guns — this can be fatal, because the weapon is pulled and someone else has been killed before they’ve even realised what they’re doing.
But teenage years can also be the best time. That reckless behaviour of a teenager is part of exploring the world and it is something which will prepare them for adult life. Unlike the careful adult who knows, from experience, that certain courses of action might lead to trouble, the teenager has to find this out for themselves. During the course of taking some risks, they will learn lessons which will prepare them for the rest of their lives. Some of the most successful businessmen of modern times are risk takers — where would Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson be if they hadn’t taken risks? So not everything a teenager does is necessarily bad.
And that feeling of exploring the world is so exciting. Suddenly, there are things outside of home and school which are so much better than anything you’ve experienced before. For many teenagers, it’s rock music, or it might be sport, or it might be clubbing or going out with friends without being supervised.
But also, you feel very different to other people. Being a teenager can be really isolating. Your parents don’t understand you, your teachers don’t understand you and you have to find your own way in the world.
I tried to think my way back to that time when I was writing my novel, Mind Secrets. I was a generally well-behaved teenager, I was pretty good at school, liked reading and generally didn’t stay out late or cause my parents to worry. But I did feel different. It’s something I tapped into for my characters who have developed special powers and feel isolated from the rest of society. Because they can sense the thoughts and feelings of other people, they are shunned by adults who are afraid of them and what they can do. Tensions build as adults want to take away the teenagers’ powers and the teenagers want to be allowed to survive as they are.
Not as if I set out to write a metaphor for the modern world. I set out to write an adventure story about teenagers with special powers that both teenagers and adults would enjoy. It’s about the story of Michael who’s on the run trying to find out the truth about his past, not about the development of the brain. But, at the back of my mind, was the thought that teenagers are different in the real world and have all these feelings that they don’t know how to express. I know that I loved books like this at that age, so I wanted to write one as an adult, just to remind me what it was like at that magical time.
Chris Reynolds is a lover of adventure stories. Chris spent her time growing up avidly reading them, watching them on TV and writing them in her school exercise books. She was often frustrated that stories written by other people didn’t go the way she wanted them to, so she decided to write her own. In the interim, she has worked for the BBC and independent radio as a journalist, written for magazines and some published non-fiction books. Now her stories are available for all to read, following the release of her acclaimed debut novel Mind Secrets.
Chris lives among the Chiltern Hills, north of London.
Chris’s online home is: http://www.chrisreynolds-writer.co.uk
About the Book:
On the run and without his memories, Michael escapes from a man called Carter onto the unfamiliar streets of London. There, he meets a gang of teenagers with the power to sense the thoughts and feelings of others. They live in fear of ‘the cure’, a mysterious process which takes away their power and, some believe, destroys their personality. Suspecting the cure caused his memory loss, Michael goes undercover to investigate the truth behind the doctors of the cure clinic. What he discovers leads him to a conspiracy that runs to the heart of government and reveals the shocking reality of his own past.
Mind Secrets is a compelling thriller set in a contemporary world and will appeal to anyone who’s ever wondered what it’s like to have mind powers.