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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Teenage brain fog

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber’s embarrassing Grammy Awards moment was familiar to parents of less-famous 16-year-olds. The image of forgetful teenagers, it turns out, is no caricature, but rather a function of their undeveloped brains.

The pop sensation posed for pictures on the red carpet at the music awards last Sunday, blissfully unaware that the zipper of his white tuxedo pants was at half mast. Many people enjoyed a laugh at Mr. Bieber’s expense, but few people escape their teenage years without similar flights of mortifying cluelessness.

The real victims of “teenage brain fog” are parents. They’re driven to distraction by young people who misplace schoolbooks and forget assignments, lose or break costly toys, and can’t remember to close the refrigerator door, tie their shoes, or zip their zippers.

The good news is that most teenagers outgrow the forgetful stage. The bad news is that it may not happen until their teen years are a distant memory.

Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, an authority on adolescent development, told the Associated Press that teenage brains tend to focus on immediate rewards. Young people are easily distracted by what is happening right now, and maddeningly forgetful of the connection between current actions (where they put their cell phone) and future rewards (not breaking the phone by sitting on it.)

Recent research, Mr. Steinberg says, indicates that brain functions that are necessary for young adults to remember things such as to brush their teeth or where they left the car keys may not develop fully until their early 20s.

Knowledge that the fog eventually will lift may be of little comfort to parents who are trying to survive the adolescence of their children. But they can take consolation from the fact that even a small army of paid attendants wasn’t enough to save Justin Bieber from a familiar teenage wardrobe malfunction.

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