May 26, 2011By Adam White Observer staff
It is a line muttered by many an exasperated parent toward a troubled adolescent: What were you thinking?
Michael Nerney, an expert on adolescent brain development and consultant in substance abuse prevention and education, will explore the answer to that question in a lecture entitled “Welcome to the Adolescent Brain” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium. The presentation will include an examination of diffusion spectrum imagery of teenagers’ brains, to illustrate the increased role that emotion plays in their decision-making processes.
“These images are fascinating – it’s like looking at billions of strands of colored thread,” Nerney said. “They help us to understand that kids’ brains do not process information the same way that adults’ do; they experience a lot more emotional intensity.”
Nerney said that emotional intensity becomes particularly important when adolescents face choices associated with risk.
“Research has found that adolescents receive a higher level of emotional reward from both considering and taking risks,” said Nerney, citing the example of kids raising their hands and cheering on a descending rollercoaster, while parents on the same ride maintain a “death grip” on the safety bar.
Margo Austin, a Peer Prevention Educator with Connecting Youth, first got the idea of bringing Nerney to CVU after listening to him speak at a Northeastern Family Institute conference last fall. Austin was most impressed with the way Nerney got his message across to the audience.
“Michael is incredibly knowledgeable, and his delivery is outstanding,” Austin said. “He is able to take some abstract concepts and combine them with real-life storytelling to make the material completely relatable.”
Nerney’s lecture is part of Connecting Youth’s continuing outreach effort aimed at educating and empowering parents to deal with critical issues in their children’s lives. Austin, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, sees the event as an opportunity for parents to connect and form networks of support.
“My hope is always to get parents out and talking to one another, so they know that they’re not alone and they understand that there are resources available to them within the community,” Austin said.
Welcome to the Adolescent Brain was set up through a partnership between Friends of CVU, the Northeastern Family Institute and Connecting Youth, and is free and open to the public. More information can be obtained by contacting Austin at 482-7156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.