I only post rough drafts

Connecting to Lifespan, #1

Ze Frank is best known as a nerdcore comic. Although he has a B.S. in Neuroscience, he found his real calling when he was the subject of the very first video recognized as having “gone viral”. He parlayed that online notoriety into a popular web show, the show (06-07). The show had a feature where he would answer viewer submitted questions in short video segments and after the show ended he continued to answer viewer questions on YouTube. This is where Ze really shines. He answers very tough questions in very well researched and thought out ways. One of his videos is a reply to a young viewer asking about how to deal with being a teenager when adults don’t seem to understand. This video sums up chapter five of our Discovering the Life Span text (Feldman, 2015) uncannily well.

The video, The Teen Brain is hosted by  Ze Frank with guest by Rainn Wilson. The video opens with the comment “teenagers are idiots… they are still developing their neural pathways...” (Frank, 2012). Saying teenagers are idiots is not very scientific but the idea that the teen brain is still developing neural pathways is well documented. At this time the brain is producing an oversupply of gray matter (Feldman, 2015). The reasons for this overproduction of gray matter are covered by Ze and Rainn later in the video.

Ze Frank explains that teenagers have been compared to aliens, a different species and Aristotle is quoted as comparing teens to drunks. A video clip is included to show the SCOTUS debating whether being a teenager was akin to a mental illness. This line of thinking isn’t so farfetched when you consider the critea for borderline personality disorder can look a lot like being a teenager. “Are your aspirations… goals and values unstable”, “Are your emotions easily aroused or intense” and “Do you often act on the spur of the moment without a plan or consideration for the outcome?” are just three of what criteria could easily describe a teenager (Nussbaum A. M., p228).

Research into the brains of adolescents has changed a lot in the decade leading up to 2012 when this video was made. Brain scans are not always the safest, best thing for developing brains so science avoided multiple exposures of teenagers to scanning for many years. Improvements in safety made research into how brains develop safer by allowing researchers to scan the same brain multiple times. This new research revealed that the brains of adolescents don’t stop developing at age twelve as was previously thought, but the brain is continuingly developing until the age of twenty-five (Dr. K. Winters, lecture, April 27, 2016). This is the what Ze Frank alludes to when he mentions the “interest” in the teenage brain over the last 10 years.

The teenage brain is becoming a faster processor of information. Myelination is the process through which parts of neurons are coated in a fatty insulation that speeds up the transfer of electrical impulses (Feldman, p96). As the speed of these electrical impulses increases so does the speed of cognition. Interconnectedness of neurons, better insulation and plenty of grey matter all combine to create a brain that can perform at an amazing level but the capability to make good decisions is not yet present (Feldman, p260). Ze Frank sums all this up expertly in his video. Ze also brings up the fact that the brain is at or near its maximum ability to process bits of information.

This video also covers some concepts within the area of cognitive development as it pertains to the adolescent mind. David Elkind developed his theory of adolescent egocentrism (Feldman, p272) drawing on Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (p17). Elkind’s constructs of the Personal fable and the Imaginary audience are both demonstrated in the video. A personal fable is a lens that adolescents see their experience through, these fables are the belief that everything that happens to them is unique to them. The fable is that no one has ever gone through anything like their experience. This is brought up in the video with “everything is 100” and Rainn Wilson’s story about sleeping in his closet for two weeks after a break-up. Rainn Wilson also touches on David Elkind’s construct of the imaginary audience when he tells the story of his butt being exposed in a tragic swim class accident and when he talks about cyber bullying. When Wilson says, “I wish that they could have the perspective to see that the opinion of the hundred and thirty-seven people that are Facebooking them doesn’t count for shit”, he is really demonstrating how easy it is for the adolescent mind to think of the imaginary audience of 137 as the whole world.

Ze Frank also makes it clear that the teenage brain is not fully capable of making decisions on an adult level. “They don’t have that part of the brain, going no you shouldn’t do that” and “when you are a teenager you don’t have access to your cerebral cortex and that is basically where wisdom resides” Rainn Wilson states.  He explains that the frontal lobes are not going to be fully developed till the ages of “20 to 25”. He also says that adults with frontal lobe damage become impulsive, childlike and sexually disinhibited. The damage in adult brains mimics where developing brains are in teenagers. Some of the pitfalls that affect teenage decision making are linked to development in the brain. The teenage brain is at higher risk for addiction, making bad choices and being overwhelmed.  Ze Frank brings up that the brain during these years more is sensitive to reward.

Ze Frank points out in the video that knowing all this does not make it easier to be a teen. Explaining away all the reasons that there is a divide between teens and the adults they are surrounded by does not make the divide go away. I feel the video is edgy enough to be interesting to adolescents but it also has an important message for the adults listening in. He mentions how he hopes this video can be a gateway toward understanding for them [parents]. The video acknowledges all the irrationality of being a teen and also carefully points out the pitfalls adolescents can fall into. Issues like cyber bullying are tied to Elkind’s constructs like personal fable and imaginary audience in a very accessible way.

“Maybe the one thing we know [adults] is that the severity of the feeling is sometimes out of line with the reality of the problem.” ~Ze Frank


Feldman, R. S., Arnett, J. J., Arnett, J. J., & Cook, J. L. (2015). Discovering the life span: PSY 203. NY, NY: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Nussbaum, A. M., (2013). The pocket guide to the DSM-5: Diagnostic exam. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Ze Frank.  [Zefrank1]. (2012, July 11) .  Teen Brain with Ze Frank and Rainn Wilson [Online video clip] .   YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KQb3Mx2WMw


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