Lincoln resident and Life Coach, Barbara Stahl, is an 80-year-old grandmother, with “an interest in how we become who we are”. She has been studying genes and the human brain for a number of years, and offers a “fast forward” according to how current technology, cultural and biology trends are shaping the condition of our world. Based upon the insights she has gained from personal experience and brain science Stahl offers a very compelling epiphany for the future: “adolescents will be running the world.”
According to Stahl, this is a conclusion she has drawn based upon her understanding of how the brain responds to the environment. “Puberty is starting at earlier ages and the development of the pre-frontal cortex [responsible for executive function and judgment] is not expedited,” she said, “And so as the adolescent brain is exposed to more violence, sexual exploitation and other traumatic experiences, the more selective the brain becomes as behavior patterns are set.” According to Stahl, the brain prunes away the areas of the brain that are not used, such as the pre-frontal cortex that is the last portion of the brain to develop. In other words, this trend points to more adolescents, possibly with unresolved issues, in mainstream positions of leadership in the private and public sectors. “Most of the funding for medical research and care goes to old people and damaged babies,” Stahl observes, “While the emerging leaders of populations are left to ‘the wolves’.”
In an August 2015 article in the New Worker, “The terrible teens,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the modern risks facing the teenager whose brain is wired for risky, pleasure-seeking activities. Her conclusion supports Stahl’s observation, in that she declares innovations like the iPhone, Ecstasy, SUVs, thirty racks and semi-automatic weapons, intensify the risks for teens as their brains and their environment are mismatched; she notes there are more temptations than earlier eras of teens. According to Kolbert, teens “live in a world where all the water bottles are spiked.”
And while this may sound like an alarming prediction of intensified risks for teens whose brain development into adulthood years may be thwarted by their environment leaving us with adolescents to run the world, to know better is to do better. According to Stahl the hope can be found in our own capacity to realize the power of the family unit in shaping and preparing youth for leadership. It might be considered a counter-cultural executive movement at home.
Stahl encourages folks to consider that the family unit is actually a “nation in miniature”. She is hopeful that people of all faiths around the globe have the ability to create a local environment that nurtures the change we want to see in our youth. “I am of the belief that there is a ‘spiritual’ nature to all of us. A higher and lower self so to speak,” she writes in an email, “From all of the courses I have taken regarding world religions, they all taught that the purpose of religion was to unify and elevate mankind. That there was to be a ‘oneness’ of humanity…It causes me to recall that oft used quote; ‘As the family goes, so goes the world’ and then it takes on new meaning. So how could it work?”
Stahl recommends parents to focus on the meaning and strategic value of truth. “In truth lies the foundation of all other virtues,” she explains, “We can then end up trusting each other.” Stahl stresses that in order to be authentic, or truthful, it is important to have the right motive, and desire to find the facts while being considerate of others including their point of view. “So when someone comes to me..someone that struggles, stumbles and some ready to fall, I often suggest when you need guidance, get it from someone that made it work, not a friend or family member that has a need similar to you [because] that would be like the 12-step mantra for insanity,” she explains. “The choosing is important. For me the choosing would include prayer, but if that is not familiar to you, choose thoughtfully.”
Stahl offers good advice for teens and adults alike.