Suicide, Responsibility, and the Teenaged Brain
October 28th, 2010
Anti-gay activists are working hard to duck responsibility for anti-gay bullying and teen suicides. These attempts occasionally veer into sheer lunacy, as when they claim gay teens are in despair because society is too accepting of homosexuality. But there’s one dodge I find particularly offensive. From the comments on NOM’s Facebook page:
The only people responsible for the suicides are the people that comitted them.
Nobody forces anyone to take his own life; ergo, only those who commit suicide are responsible.
Each person is responsible 4 their own actions. U make believe u r gay. God did not make u gay & He does not make u commit sucicide. nor does anyone else
I don’t know if gay is always a choice, or not. But suicide is ALWAYS a choice. The ultimate cop-out.
To be fair, I don’t see this from polished anti-gay leaders. But it’s all over the comments on their web pages and blogs. It’s a strange argument coming from conservatives, who generally believe teenagers require strict discipline and are still learning to make wise decisions. They think a 15-year-old like Billy Lucas can’t handle alcohol, a car, the vote, or serving in the military, but he’ll have no trouble hearing that in the core of his being he’s an abomination, a pervert, an affront to God.
We have good reason not to trust kids to their own judgment when it comes to the big stuff. The human brain isn’t mature until it’s 23 to 25 years old. Through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists are now able to track blood flow — and therefore activity — in the brains of adults and teens as they confront information and solve problems. The science is new, but some differences are clear:
Between childhood and adulthood, the brain’s “wiring diagram” becomes richer, more complex and more efficient, especially in the brain’s frontal lobe, or front outer mantle, which is the seat of such higher order functions as learning and socialization. An important part of the frontal lobes is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is often referred to as the “CEO” or executive of the brain and is responsible for such skills as setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, controlling impulses, and allocating attention. New research suggests that the PFC is one of the last areas of the brain to fully mature…
[O]ne key MRI study found that when identifying emotions expressed on faces, teens more often activated their amygdala—the brain area that experiences fear, threat and danger— whereas adults more often activated their prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain linked more to reason and judgment—and performed better on the task. Behaviorally, the adult’s responses were more intellectual, the teens’ more from the gut. These findings and others suggest that although the plasticity and changeability of the adolescent brain are extremely well suited to meet the demands of teen life, guidance from parents and other adult institutions are essential while decision-making circuitry is being formed.
Impulse control, planning and decisionmaking are largely frontal cortex functions that are still maturing during adolescence…[O]ne reason adolescents may have difficulty inhibiting inappropriate impulses is that the circuitry needed for such control is not fully mature in early adolescence, thereby making such tasks relatively difficult.
In short, kids have less impulse control than adults, and they listen to their gut when processing emotional cues.
Imagine then that you’re a gay teen, and you’re watching this Jimmy Swaggart broadcast with your parents, who have demonized gays in front of you all your life. Look at Swaggart’s face as he speaks. Take in his “emotional cues.” Hear your parents murmuring “Mm hmm. That’s right.”
Imagine reacting from your gut, not your intellect. Imagine your brain has only limited impulse control.
Imagine all that — as the only life you know.
Maggie Gallagher wants to know if she has blood on her hands. Jimmy Swaggart. Peter Sprigg. Tony Perkins. Bryan Fischer. Linda Harvey. Whether you’re calling us an abomination, or phrasing it more gently (like Maggie) and merely saying we can never feel the love that a man and a woman can. You all have blood on your hands.