Saturday, December 09, 2006
COPA: theories about teenage pruning
Nora Underwood has a detailed article "The Teenage Brain: Why adolescents sleep in, take risks, and won't listen to reason" in the blue-covered November 2006 issue of the Canadian publication, The Walrus. The link is here.
The article describes the process of brain neuorlogic pruning which starts roughly at puberty. Brain circuits have been added, but now they are fine tuned, with some redundant or unproductive circuits eliminated. It's a ruthless process, somewhat like corporate downsizing after mergers. People with gifts need to nurture them during this period; adolescence is a particularly important period for developing performance and memory skills, as in music, and thinking skills, like in mathematics, or athletic ability, as in team or individual sports. The brain is not fully grown until past legal age, until about age 25 (old enough to be well into law school or medical school).
Sexual orientation (especially in boys) seems largely underway even before the pruning starts, according to the best evidence. I have a blog discussion of that here., with a perspective from my own experience. Nevertheless, the whole concept of HTM seems subject to analysis according to emerging science about the growing child's and teenager's brain. Already, the law, in criminal areas, is questioning the concept of trying teens as adults and exacting maximum penalties for the same offenses.
COPA, according to most of the defense arguments offered by the government, focuses largely on "commercial pornography". I would be concerned if the "average person" raising kids will make such a sharp separation. (I haven't encountered any testimony about pruning in the trial record, but I could have misse it, because there is so much. This sounds like a "new" issue that could come up in Congress very suddenly.) There are many ideas that parents don't want their kids to know about too early. (Think back how long it takes parents to tell "the truth" about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.) There are also other problems where religion and science come into conflict (creationism, intelligent design, etc.) The "reason" or objectivist approach (especially in a globalized, individually competitive world) is to make all information available in open source equally, and let the chips fall where they may. Obviously, this does not sit well with many people and presents issues with respect to minors, which may or may not fall outside of the scope of COPA. The "free entry" issue with which people can enter the self-publishing field and reach minors (whether intentionally) by search engines complicates or enriches the issue (depending on how you look at it.) All of this remains to be seen.
There is a disturbing undertone to the "pruning" theory for speakers. That is, that certain subject matter or "implicit content" when uttered in a public space is harmful to the immature, and to the vulnerable. The vulnerability concept contages, especially given the extremely wide range of maturity and cognition at almost any (minor's) age: is that the "problem" of the immature person, of his parents, of society, or of the speaker who gains by public exposure or who perhaps just defends himself in public.