Rachel Grate
April 23, 2015 3:40 pm

When I was in high school, there was a chair in my bedroom that was exclusively used to pile clothes on. It was a gigantic mountain of shirts and jeans and tanks and every piece of cloth I could drape over my body, and it was insane. In addition to this, my mom would complain that she couldn’t walk to my bed without tripping over a pair of boots. I mean, we’re talking endless jokes about a tornado passing through levels of messy. But now I (and every other human who has been scolded about their sloppy bedroom at some point or another) finally have an excuse!

If you’re like me and aren’t into the folding-your-clothes and vacuuming-the-carpet kind of life, we now have Frances Jensen to thank for explaining our behavior to our parents. The neuroscientist (and mother of two boys who are probably even messier than we are!) poured through hundreds of scientific studies and found that the secret to our messy behavior: it’s in our brains.

In teenage brains in particular, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully connected yet to other regions of the brain — like the region that seeks pleasure and reward. This lack of connectivity means that the part of our brain trying to have fun isn’t in full communication with the part that controls judgments, risk assessments, and impulse control. Makes sense, right?

Essentially, as Jensen told the Washington Post, the teenage brain is “like a Ferrari without brakes.” Which, yikes. Those “brakes” are the motivation we need to slow down and clean our rooms instead of watching a third episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

And it’s not that the teenage brain isn’t smart. In fact, Jensen says, it is actually a “late childhood brain” and thus retains the “peak learning” potential of children. But they also lack the better, stronger connections between parts of the brain that adult brains have.

“That’s the paradox,” Jenson said. “They’re very sharp on the one hand… but the connectivity is lagging.”

So next time your mom asks how you can be driven enough to get an A on a test but still refuse to take five minutes to clean your room, now you have an answer. Our brains just aren’t build that way — not yet, at least. (Jensen is adamant that “late bloomers exist,” so there’s still hope for your college dorm room.)

If you’re having trouble convincing them, Jensen turned her findings into a best-selling book called The Teenage Brain, which might just be the perfect strategic Mother’s Day present.

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