'Brainstorm' author Siegel to discuss book at Amador Theater
By Lou Fancher
It might be the best $10 ever spent.
If you are a teenager or if you parent, teach, work or volunteer with anyone ages 12 through 24, the opportunity to look into the eye of the storm that is the teenage brain with psychiatrist and author Dan Siegel Thursday at the Amador Theater is well-worth the cost of admission.
Even if you fork over an extra $16.95 for a copy of the just-released paperback edition of Siegel's best-selling 2013 book, "Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain," it's like money in the bank. The UCLA School of Medicine professor and founder and executive director of the Mindsight Institute busts myths and shares tips as he introduces audiences to "mindsight," a connective, calming web of science-based insight, empathetic stories and integrative social skills offered to anyone involved with a teen or young adult.
Co-hosted by the city of Pleasanton's Literary Arts Program and Towne Center Books, purchasing a book supports a local, independent bookseller.
Teresa Parham has been the Senior Librarian for Teen Services at the Pleasanton Public Library for 11 years. "I read and really enjoyed 'Brainstorm.' I'm absolutely encouraging teens to read this book," she says. "The Mindsight Tools are extremely valuable. I hope parents and teens read the book together and talk about it."
Parham wishes she'd had the book during her "tumultuous" adolescence. "I think this book would have helped me understand the physiological changes and given me tools to deal with my disorganized and confused thoughts," she says.
Her comments mirror the responses of three teens Siegel includes in the paperback's preface. A 15-year-old says that if teens, parents and teachers could read the book and learn to see teenagers as people with potential, not just problems, they'd understand the "essence of adolescence."
Another reader, recognizing himself in the book's real-person narratives, found "deep excitement" upon self-reflection. Before encountering the science and mindsight ideas, the 19-year-old boy says he'd only experienced hopelessness. And a 13-year-old expressed surprise that a book on neurology could be interesting and now delights in his newfound sense of purpose.
Siegel admits that earning the accolades was a process. Initially writing the book for teens, he decided adults also needed access to the new science about adolescents' developing brains. But writing on two channels was "head-spinning," and the feedback he received told him that the dual approach wasn't working. Eventually, he hit on a combination of hard science, personal stories (with names changed to protect privacy), and "Mindsight Tools" that teach exercises aimed at improved awareness, empathy, listening skills, sleep and other mental health practices.
"The responses generally are that adolescents reading the book feel clarity about this age period, empowered to make sense of their lives and do something positive about it and to understand their friends better," Siegel says, about reactions readers have shared during recent months.
Most rewarding has been finding that the issues covered in the book "are relevant in Myanmar as much as they are in Massachusetts, South Africa or Southern California," he says.
Understanding the foundational brain changes that affect behavior during adolescence is an ongoing process that obviously hasn't stopped with the publication of "Brainstorm," he adds. New York's Mount Sinai Hospital researcher Rachel Yehuda's study of Holocaust survivors whose trauma was passed on to their children (http://gu.com/p/4byz9/stw) leads him to say, "We continue to learn about the brain and that we have epigenetic changes we inherit from our parents and even from our grandparents that shape how our brain develops."
Siegel is a master at defusing the emotional bombs teens and their parents experience. Sure, hormones surge, messages bypass the calming cortex to fast-track to the act-now amygdala, novelty-seeking peaks and more -- but understanding the science behind it all allows families to avoid destructive interactions. Having tools to deal with the volatile period means adults and teens can increase the upsides (teens' creativity) while decreasing the downsides (extreme risk-taking).
Although he admits that contemporary society's emphasis on visual stimuli at the expense of attention to internal mental states may be decreasing empathy -- he mentions that studies have concluded that threatening atmospheres diminish compassion for people not included in one's "in-group" -- Siegel displays a fundamental belief in the power and positivity of our instinctive selves at any age.
"We are profoundly collaborative, attuned creatures," he says.