If your teenager is basically the worst person on Earth, take heart — a new study has shed light on why teens are such horrible jerks, and proves that science basically demands their jerkitude for the early teen years.
The “teens are jerks” study, published as a long-arc research study in the journal Developmental Psychology, looks at the cognitive abilities of those whose parents are enduring the teenage years.
And the findings may come as a shock, to anyone who isn’t right this second being assaulted in an olfactory fashion by a sweaty pair of soccer shoes you said ten times to not wear without socks, to no avail. (Number of sneaker pairs we’ve thrown out this year due to sock negligence since school began in this house: three.)
The Wall Street Journal has some data from the study on teen terrors, and Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, explains that “the brain regions that support social cognition, which helps us understand and interact with others successfully, continue to change dramatically.”
Translation: it’s not that your teenager wants to be a she or he-beast all the livelong day, he or she is just actually physically unable to be a bearable human being just yet.
“Cognitive empathy arises from a different part of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, which continues developing later, through adolescence. But the two are linked; children’s affective empathy predicts their level of cognitive empathy as teens, says a forthcoming study by Caspar Van Lissa, a doctoral candidate at Utrecht’s adolescent-research center.”
Still, teens often seem to be jerks compared to younger kids, which prompts a question about why kids seem to be less monstrous to deal with than tweens and teens. And it comes down, in boys, to “affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings.”
This behavior markedly declines between the ages of 13 and 16, and requires a constant effort to maintain for boys in that group. Teen and tween girls begin to develop workable cognitive empathy at 13, but boys are not close to caught up until they’re around 15.
The study on teens’ inability to not be jerks all the time also indicated that boys with approachable fathers develop these skills more quickly and thoroughly.