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    “The Teen Brain Tunes in Less to Mom’s Voice, More to Unfamiliar Voices, Study Finds” by Erin Digitale

    Stanford University School of Medicine
    The Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards: News Releases - Bronze

    “The Teen Brain Tunes in Less to Mom’s Voice, More to Unfamiliar Voices, Study Finds” was published on April 28, 2022. It is a Stanford Medicine News Center news release about brain changes that cause teenagers to tune out their mothers’ voices starting around age 13. This story provides a scientific explanation for a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has raised a teenager or been one: As they grow, teens become much more oriented to their peers and less interested in what their parents have to say. 

    The biological reason for this change is a shift in how the brains of teenagers are wired, the brain-scanning study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed. Instead of giving special treatment to the sound of their mother’s voice, the teen brain’s reward centers and brain regions that assign social value to interactions become attuned to unfamiliar voices.

    The goal of the story was to explain the connection between the common phenomenon and the brain MRI data and to introduce the idea that this biological shift in teens’ brains is healthy and normal. Teenagers need to become independent from their families, and at some level, this must be driven by biological signals.

    What was the most impactful part of your entry?
    The most impactful aspects of the entry were the sections that connected the scientific advance to the experience of raising teens, such as the following explanation from the study’s senior author, Vinod Menon: “Our findings demonstrate that this process is rooted in neurobiological changes. … When teens appear to be rebelling by not listening to their parents, it is because they are wired to pay more attention to voices outside their home.”

    What challenge did you overcome?
    The scientists on this team have a strong tendency to explain their work in very technical terms. Asking them to relate the findings to their personal experiences, as parents of teens and/or as people who had once been teens themselves, helped break them out of their tendency to use jargon and prompted them to explain the work in easy-to-understand language.

    Alison Peterson