What's the worst thing about teenagers

Mr. Bainbridge, what are pimples and greasy hair good for?

DAVID BAINBRIDGE Researchers wondered if there was a positive cause for acne. They found one who would also explain why boys are usually more affected: The pimples could be there to make the boys unattractive so that they are no competition for adult men. Because that could be dangerous for them.

Do you think so?

BAINBRIDGE Let's say I'm not entirely convinced.

Do you know happy teenagers?

BAINBRIDGE What is certain is that it is an intense phase. If you ask people how they experienced their own teenage years, some say, it was a great time. For example, I loved being a teenager. Others say, "It was horrible. The worst time of my life." People are very extreme on this subject. So, yes, there are loads of happy teenagers out there. But their moods are very changeable.

Why are teenagers so often so negative?

BAINBRIDGE During this time, young people have to distance themselves psychologically from their parents and push their parents back. Above all, friends are important. Many studies have shown that 80 percent of teenagers' talk time is thanks to friends. And that's where they are happiest: Talking without doing anything.

Is it even worth trying to raise adolescent teenagers?

BAINBRIDGE I think teenagers listen a little to their parents. So I think there are two or three things that your son or daughter should really avoid - things like unprotected sex or cigarettes. Apart from that, they should be given a lot of freedom. There's no point in complaining about the mess in the nursery.

A colleague recently said that her husband's pubescent son is driving her crazy because he is dragging his duvet all over the house and cheerfully sweeping the floor. Another mother advised her: Don't do it, it's not worth it.

BAINBRIDGE I would advise: say it once, then no more, there are more important things in life. People keep asking me if it has been easier to get along with my own children now that I have written the book. The answer is: no. My book is not about how to be a good father or a good mother. It may help a little to understand why the children are who they are. They are different and nothing can be done about that.

But isn't it the parents' job to educate and structure the children?

BAINBRIDGE You have to emphasize the few really important things. And then you can say the less important ones, but you shouldn't expect the young people to listen to you. It is important to give structure to teenagers. But you never know if they're listening. Can be, can not be.

If the young person's task is to shape his or her personality, how can parents help?

BAINBRIDGE By offering stability and emotional support. That's all. And if they are asked for advice, they may give it, but ... the youngsters may not follow it. It can be very hurtful to be pushed back like this. But that is not meant personally. There are even studies that show that teenagers who are particularly active in separating themselves from their parents later become more psychologically stable than others.

When one imagines the stereotype of a US high school, it comes to mind quite spontaneously: success for the beautiful and strong, defeat for the ugly and "nerds". Is everything evolution?

BAINBRIDGE Must be. You can look at any teenage group: They immediately group themselves into two social hierarchies - a boy and a girl hierarchy. And? What determines the ranking? Studies show that it is beauty in girls. Boys are about bravery and skill. This is strange because the great thing about people is that they are very clever. But that doesn't particularly affect hierarchies. It's a little depressing, but true. In adults, by the way, it's similar: appearance seems to be very important.

Doesn't that mean that outsiders stay "outside" for life - outside of the "in-groups"?

BAINBRIDGE It depends what kind of "nerd" you are. There are researchers who argue that art was developed as an instrument to impress the opposite sex. This shows that evolution is not particularly feminist. Apparently women find artists a lot more attractive than men do. That is an argument as to why many of history's famous musicians and visual artists are men. But of course there could be other reasons for this.

If bravery and dominance among young men and beauty among girls determine the pecking order, does feminist endeavors make any sense at all?

BAINBRIDGE After all, women seem to have the power to choose a partner. Studies show that women are the ones who make the choice. This is because women invest more in reproduction.

Their main message is: be lenient with teenagers, their brains are under construction.

BAINBRIDGE Yes, there is a lot of remodeling work going on in the human brain during this time. Our brain reached its present size with Homo sapiens 250,000 years ago. There have been teenagers ever since. Before that, it took maybe eight or nine years to grow up. It was not until Homo sapiens that the ripening period dragged on for 15, 16, and 18 years. In brain scans you can see that the brain is the largest at twelve, after that it gets smaller until we are 20.


BAINBRIDGE Yes, that's because it is being restructured during this time. A very complex process. Trillion connections are cut. In addition, the main connection paths get a fat insulation, which ensures a higher transmission speed. On top of that, the brain chemistry changes completely, activating the prefrontal cortex in the brain. This is what makes abstract thinking possible.

Does that mean science would be impossible without teenagers?

BAINBRIDGE I am convinced of that. And I think a lot of the problems we have with teenagers are due to this gigantic renovation. Very simple: the sudden tiredness and indolence. But also positive things: during this time teenagers learn to express all these complicated things that go around in their head. And: You are able to speak to teachers, parents, little siblings and friends in completely different languages. That is an enormous achievement. An example: my teenage daughter sometimes just grunts at me, but the next moment she speaks very articulately to unfamiliar adults.

Should you even send young people to school if they don't have the energy to listen anyway?

BAINBRIDGE You are undoubtedly bored easily. But learning and education are very important to be successful. They may not admit it, but teenagers already know why they have to go to school.

Some education reformers recommend getting 14- or 15-year-olds out of their classrooms and doing practical things with them.

BAINBRIDGE 2000 years ago you could probably finish your education at ten and knew just as much as anyone else. But today school and training take longer and longer. This conflicts with the teenagers' desire to leave the nest and is one of the main reasons we have so many problems with them: They shouldn't even be living with us when they are 16. Instead, housing shortages and long training periods in some countries mean that children still live with their parents when they are in their mid-twenties. Evolution did not plan it that way.

Teens have to take risks in order to learn. Are they still allowed to do that often enough today?

BAINBRIDGE The problem is the kind of risks they face today. Thousands of years ago, the risk might have been falling from a tree or being attacked by an animal. Drugs, fast driving, unprotected sex - teenagers cannot really assess all of these risks in the modern world. Teenagers are not prepared for the dangers of the modern world.

Is the world too complex?

BAINBRIDGE Yes, and our instincts don't help us. Adults have that problem too.

Do you think teenagers should have sex?

BAINBRIDGE It is clear that they want to have sex. It would be pointless to long for it for six years in order not to have it. I think adults are a bit hypocritical on the subject. They want their children to have trust and self-confidence based sex when they are 21, 22. But how are they supposed to learn that without practicing? The important thing is why, with whom and in what context. I prefer someone to have sex at 14 in a good relationship than at 21 in a violent one.

Do adults keep the character they formed when they were 18?

BAINBRIDGE I think, to a large extent, yes. We humans learn the range of our social behavior until we are 18, after that not much happens. In fact, it is very difficult to change people afterwards.

That means parents should keep a close eye on their growing children's friends, doesn't it?

BAINBRIDGE Oh no, I think young people are very selective there. If you enjoy being with a loud-speaking dominant friend, that doesn't mean you want to be like that yourself. Maybe he's just entertaining. Just because friends enjoy doing risky, dangerous things doesn't mean they want to do it themselves. The teenager chooses what to take over and what not to do. And he brings a personality from childhood who controls that. The personality does not only start to develop when you are twelve: Babies already have a character.

Frauke Haß conducted the interview