Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – the video

Introducing the NEW Blame My Brain: what’s changed – and what’s not

NEW

This month, I have a few articles scheduled to introduce to you the new edition of Blame My Brain – the Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed. Today, I’ll be telling you how it’s different – and how it’s not. Next week is Children’s Mental Health Week so I’ll be focusing on that, answering a question from a blog-reader, Alex, who asked for strategies to help young people feeling anxious/panicky or low but without knowing quite why; and I’ll also tackle panic attacks. Then, after next week, I’ll get back to teenage brains, with articles such as:

  • THE One Thing to Understand about Adolescence
  • Five Special Things About the Teenage Brain
  • Has the Teenage Brain Changed Since 2005?
  • How to Support My Teenager

The New Edition – no singing or dancing

Writing Blame My Brain (full title – Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed) changed my life. I’d been perfectly happy with my career as a teenage novelist, winning awards and engaging with young readers, and then, seemingly out of the blue – except not, as I’d been studying the human brain for ten years already by that stage! – I wrote the first book in the world to explore and explain the teenage brain for young people. The teenage brain differences had only very recently been discovered, notably by Jay Giedd at the NIMH in the US, and I became aware of them early on through reading that new research. And I realised this was of huge interest, reassurance and practical relevance to adolescents themselves.

The way I write is not “teenage”, though – I write for any humans who are interested. Teenagers are interested in their own brains but even more so are the people who care about, live and work with them. And so BMB became an international bestseller, selling more each year since its birth in 2005.

Yes, Blame My Brain is 18 this year! So, adult, you think? No, because we know that the adolescent brain doesn’t finish doing its stuff until the mid-late twenties. So I don’t think the book will be fully adult till 2030 or later.

BMB opened my horizon and led to all my later books on stress, resilience, sleep, screens, peer pressure etc but a couple of years ago I realised it needed an upgrade, as the last re-edition dates back to 2013. A lot has changed since then. But some things haven’t.

I thought I’d give you an insight into the changes I’ve made for this new edition, published this month and available now. (Make sure the retailer you choose has the new edition with the green sticker on it as above. And, if you choose Amazon, please make sure it’s actually being sold by Amazon not an Amazon marketplace seller. My preference is Bookshop.org – this link goes to my own collection and picks there.))

What has changed

1. Screens, social media and the social brain

A whole new chapter on screens, social media and the social brain. It’s odd to think that this wasn’t mentioned in the first edition, considering what an overwhelming part of life screens and social media now are. But I was doing the 2013 revisions in 2011-12 and social media wasn’t a Thing then. Yes, it existed but until the smartphone became mainstream and affordable, it wasn’t something enough people had in their pockets to make an impact on life. (The iphone was released in 2007 and at the time was described as by Microsoft’s chief as “the most expensive phone in the world.” That year the total number of smartphones in the world was 17million. In 2023 the number is estimated as 6.8 billion.)

I’ve already written a whole book on this – The Teenage Guide to Life Online – so it at least needs a chapter in Blame My Brain! And I explain it in the context of the human drive to being social and making connections with other humans.

More on this topic later this month.

2. Updated research references

Blame My Brain is not an academic book and it’s not appropriate or necessary for me to include all the references to research that I mention, so I have always sprinkled these lightly and only where necessary. But it’s better for the references to be recent where more recent studies exist. So I’ve done that. Also, where stats were from pre-2013 I have updated them – for example, figures on risk-taking.

3. Clarified the chapter on gender and sex differences

For me this was always the least important chapter. I’d always been clear that any observed differences between how male brains and female brains work were up for debate, at least in the sense that many (most?) of any different behaviours could be put down to nurture (society) more than nature (biology) but that there are some differences that we observe that are more likely to be down to biology – and that those differences are not, in my view, very interesting or meaningful. I was also clear that any differences stemming from biology do not have to dictate behaviour or skills. Boys and girls, and women and men, can become equally skilled in any area, through practice, teaching and determination. Even if centuries/millennia of human females more often having caring or gathering roles and males more often having combative or hunting roles might have created patterns of typical skill-sets, this does not mean that each can’t very easily learn the other set of skills. Skills come from what you do rather than what you’re given.

But the topic of gender or sex (which are not the same things) has in recent years become one where views are often polarised and we have to be clearer what we mean. So I have done my best to make my position and evidence stronger. It is that there are biologically-driven typical/average differences and socially-driven typical/average differences. The socially-driven differences are (in my view) more common and certainly extremely powerful. But behaving in a certain way or having certain skills do not make you biologically more female or more male. You can dress how you want, learn what you want, become brilliant at what you want, live the life you want and do whatever feels right to you, within the law and while not causing harm.

As well as updating and increasing the science references, I have also included lots of observations from teachers, who are, if you think about it, the people who work with and observe more teenagers than anyone else. So, whatever the neuroscience might say, what teachers say is relevant and useful.

It is still, frankly, the least important chapter in the book! Mainly because every other chapter helps you understand adolescent brains in a useful way. I don’t this this topic is particularly useful for that. But we still need it. Perhaps even more than before.

4. Updated the language

As I said, I don’t write in a “teenage” way but there are still things that have changed since 2013 (and certainly since 2005) and as a writer I care very much about word choice and what feels “right for now”. Here are some things I looked out for:

  • Change in how we respect teenagers. No one has ever, to my knowledge, criticised me for lack of respect. I’m known for not being patronising. But when I came to re-read the 2013 edition for this revision, I was quite uncomfortable with some of my phrases, particularly when I made jokey remarks on what, for me, is not a funny subject. So, while keeping it light and friendly, I’ve removed the bits that felt disrespectful or too light-hearted. I had, for example, joked about the bad behaviour of the fictional character, Marco, in the chapter on risk – the attempt to get a laugh didn’t do service to the serious topic so I toned it down.
  • Greater care when referring to mental health issues. For example, in the fictional intro to the chapter on emotions, I show Matt referring approvingly to Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide and Matt’s mother being worried by the doodle of nooses in the margin of his essay. I completely removed these references in the new edition. Another example of this extra care is that, in the chapter on the risks of alcohol, I also include an extra paragraph of reassurance, in case a reader has already been involved in this. Another example is where I’m talking about schizophrenia and in the list of symptoms I refer to “having strange beliefs” and “seeing/hearing/smelling things that are not there” and I have changed those to “having beliefs that seem very strange to others” and “seeing/hearing/smelling things that other people do not”, which are more respectful and less dogmatic.
  • Generally moving language and actions into the modern era: for example, you wouldn’t now “write a letter to a magazine”, we don’t usually look at a clock during the night, etc etc

What has not changed

1. The research conclusions

None of the points I made in the 2013 edition have become less valid. Phew! The research says the same as it did before, just more strongly. Teenage brains are special in just the way I said!

2. The teenage brain

The human brain hasn’t changed in that time – but individual brains adapt according to what they do and experience. A typical teenage brain in 2023 is only different from how it would have been in 2013 because it has experienced and learnt different things. It doesn’t start different from how it would have started back in 2013. The brain we are born with does not depend on the generation it is born into; but the brain we develop does.

3. My intention

My aim was always to unpick and reveal what we know about teenage brains, beginning with neuroscience and fitting it with observed behaviours and an understanding of the societies adolescents live in, explaining in a reassuring way so that young people and the adults who care about them and work with them can make better use of those brains.

It has always been my belief that the more we understand how something – in this case, a brain – works, the better we can make it work, the more surely we can prevent things going wrong and fix them when they do.

Our brains are in our hands. Not completely, because there are always many things we can’t control or change, but far, far more than many people think. And certainly far more than most teenagers think.

4. How fascinating it is!

Actually, with that new chapter, it’s even more fascinating!

Thank you to everyone who has bought Blame My Brain or borrowed from a public library

Thank you to readers, parents, teachers and librarians everywhere. I am beyond grateful for the success of Blame My Brain and proud to play my part in helping adolescents and their adults understand that, difficult as adolescence can often be, it is also truly fascinating, powerful and, in the words of the title, amazing.

It’s not easy but together we can make it easier and better.


ACTIONS FOR YOU:

  • Remember to enter the giveaway here. Deadline Feb 14th.
  • Buy the book from Bookshop.org
  • Ask me a question for the chance to win another book
  • Tell your teenager you care about them – or show them with a small gesture: a hug, some praise, a card with a message of appreciation, let them choose a family activity or meal
  • Subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already. I’ll be sharing my top tips for supporting and understanding teenagers over the next few weeks.

 

 

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