Misbehaving Teens May Have Brain Abnormality — Or They May Be ExhaustedS

Some badly-behaved teenagers may have a brain abnormality that keep them from feeling empathy — but others just need more sleep.

The Daily Mail reports that teens with conduct disorder — characterized by "a high level of aggressive and antisocial behaviour" — show differences in brain activity from normal teens. Specifically, when scientists showed them pictures of "angry, sad and neutral faces," they had lower than average activity in emotion-processing areas of their brains. Researchers think the experiment may indicate that kids with conduct disorder have trouble empathizing with others. Says study author Ian Goodyer, "The information will inform the development of early detection and intervention strategies in children at risk for antisocial behaviour."

Presumably it could also shift the perception of misbehaving teens as simply "bad," and perhaps point to some possible treatments. Perhaps teens could be trained in empathy — and perhaps this would be more effective than simply sending them to juvenile hall. Here in America, Judith Warner has noted that while some kids with "issues" get treatment and help, others slip through the cracks. The latter group tend to come from poorer families and have fewer people advocating for them — but perhaps instead of ever-tougher punishments, what they need is someone who understands their brains.

And some kids just need a good night's sleep. According to a study at a Rhode Island boarding school, also reported in the Daily Mail, just an extra half-hour was enough to significantly reduce tardiness and help kids feel better in school. Nurse visits dropped; so did the number of students reporting depression. "It was a positive thing for the entire school," said one recent grad.

The idea of starting high school later has been batted around before, but it never really catches on in any large-scale way. Partly this is because struggling schools don't want to shorten instruction time (as the Rhode Island school did to give its kids more shut-eye). But starting class when teens are more likely to be alert could maximize the amount of school time that's actually useful. In addition, part of schools' unwillingness to change their schedules might have to do with the idea that teens should be learning to get up early, and that they're slackers if they don't. The Mayo Clinic aims to dispel this myth, writing that if a teen has trouble getting up in the morning, "it's not necessarily because he or she is lazy or contrary." Still, so much of school seems focused on molding kids into certain very rigid standards of behavior, and branding them "lazy or contrary" if they don't conform. Instead, maybe we need to pay attention to why they're not conforming.

Teenage Anti-Social Behaviour Caused By 'Brain Abnormality' [Daily Mail]
Just Half An Hour Extra In Bed 'Makes Teenagers Happier And More Alert' [Daily Mail]