To the Editor:
Re “Why Teenagers Act Crazy,” by Richard A. Friedman (Sunday Review, June 29):
Studies have shown that about half of American teenagers meet the criteria for some form of mental illness, including anxiety disorders, but I disagree with Dr. Friedman that this is largely because of the properties of a teenage brain. That is a myth perpetuated by a handful of researchers, some of whom are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which has successfully created a huge new market for psychoactive drugs by promoting the faulty “teenage brain” idea.
In more than 100 cultures around the world, teenage turmoil is absent; such cultures don’t even have a word for “adolescence.” If the teenage brain were responsible for the turmoil of our teenagers, we would see it everywhere. We don’t.
The turmoil of our teenagers is due entirely to societal practices that infantilize young people and isolate them from responsible adults, trapping them in the frivolous, media-controlled world of “teen culture.” Anthropological research also demonstrates that when Western schooling and media enter cultures where teenagers are highly functional, they typically take on all the pathological characteristics of American teenagers within a decade. The problem is our society, not the brain.
Vista, Calif., June 30, 2014
The writer is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the author of “Teen 2.0.”