Date of this Version
Published in Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 42 (2016), pp 98–99.
Laurence Steinberg, Age of opportunity: Lessons from the new science of adolescence. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-544-27977-3 (cloth), 264 pp., $28
Adolescence, argues Laurence Steinberg in Age of opportunity, is the new zero-to-three. Noting the extensive publicity regarding evidence of the developmental plasticity of the very young brain, Steinberg writes, “We now know that adolescence is a similarly remarkable period of brain reorganization and plasticity” (p. 22).
As indicated in the subtitle, the book's intent is to provide “lessons from the new science of adolescence.” What is the new science of adolescence? Brain science. And what are its lessons? The primary lesson is that brain plasticity decreases after the first few years of life but then returns to a high level in adolescence, which Steinberg defines as the period fromabout age 10 (reflecting the declining age of puberty) to about age 25 (reflecting recent delays in the United States and elsewhere in adopting adult roles). He claims that “psychological change during adolescence is far more dramatic than it is in middle childhood” (p. 41).
The second half of the book focuses on applying what we know to promote adolescentwelfare and development. I have argued elsewhere against the sorts of categorical restrictions Steinberg and others believe can be justified by brain immaturity (Moshman, 2011b, 2013). Steinberg's recommendations to parents of adolescents, on the other hand, seem beyond question: We should focus on rewarding, rather than punishing, behavior.We should promote development by scaffolding advanced behavior. We should engage in authoritative, rather than authoritarian or permissive, parenting. And all of this should be directed toward promoting the development of self-regulation. These recommendations are hardly new insights, however, nor are they specific to adolescence. On the contrary, they reflect a professional consensus rooted in decades of psychological theory and research on learning, cognition, and development.
In this review, considering Age of opportunity as popularization, I provide some historical context regarding popular nativism. Then, turning to academic considerations, I consider the place of Steinberg's theory of heightened adolescent plasticity in relation to other developmental views of the lifespan.