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Parenting in the Age of Neuromyths and Neuroscience: Navigating the Adolescent Brain

Title: The reported effects of neuroscience literacy and belief in neuromyths among parents of adolescents

Author(s) and Year: Ilona M. B. Benneker, Nikki C. Lee, Sibel Altikulaç, Chiel van der Veen, Lydia Krabbendam and Nienke van Atteveldt; 2023

Journal: JCOM - Journal Of Science Communication (open access)


TL;DR: Benneker et al. explore how parents' understanding of neuroscience affects their parenting of adolescents. The study uncovers that parents may believe both myths and neuroscience research. These beliefs can affect how they raise their children, especially among parents who have more than one child. Science communicators should recognise parents as an important target audience.

Why I chose this paper: As a child, I observed teenagers being unfairly portrayed as irrational and difficult in the media, leading me to accept this stereotype without parental explanation. I chose this paper because it highlights the gap between neuroscience discoveries about adolescent behavior and parents' understanding, emphasising the urgency of closing this knowledge divide.


Parents have always been baffled by adolescence, that unstable time between childhood and adulthood. Why do teenagers tend to act impulsively and take chances that send our hearts racing? Why do they exhibit such self-awareness one second and complete impulsivity the next? The mystery surrounding the maturing teenage brain has been answered to an extent by neuroscientific research, which has shown that this stage is characterised by continuing neuronal expansion. However, there's a missing piece in this puzzle - how does this scientific insight influence the beliefs and behaviors of the most crucial stakeholders in a teenager's life: their parents?

Parents often rely on accessible sources like online media, magazines, and popular science books to shape their parenting strategies based on what they understand about teenage brain development. However, the media's oversimplified portrayal of adolescent brain development as "irrational" and "impulsive" contributes to the spread of neuromyths - common but incorrect beliefs or misconceptions about the brain and its development.This study addresses a critical gap in research – the scarcity of studies that examine how widespread these misconceptions are among parents. This is especially important because these misconceptions have the potential to shape parent’s parenting strategies, which can directly impact the well-being of their adolescent children.

So how do neuromyths and neuroscience literacy influence parents' views on adolescent brain development and their parenting behaviors?

The Methods

The researchers contacted schools interested in participating and asked for permission to send information to parents regarding this study and seeking consent. Schools that agreed forwarded an email to parents with children aged 12-18. A total of 193 Dutch parents participated, with 153 completing the study (80.8% female, average age 47.2 years). Through a series of online surveys, Benneker and the researchers collected data on parents' neuroliteracy and likelihood to believe in neuromyths, as well as where parents go to look for neuroscience information. . The questionnaire consisted of 20 questions, with 8 questions focusing on neuromyths like "we only use 10% of our brains," “People with a dominant left hemisphere are mostly analytical, while people with a dominant right hemisphere are mostly creative.” 12 questions addressing general brain knowledge pertaining to questions such as “neuroimaging techniques can be used to diagnose autism or ADHD” were also included in the questionnaire.

To determine if parents believed in neuromyths, the researchers assessed how many of these 8 myths they answered incorrectly. To evaluate neuroscience literacy, they counted how many of the 12 brain knowledge questions the parents answered correctly. The researchers also asked how parents apply these beliefs and knowledge to how they parent.

The Results

A.Decoding parents' understanding of neuroscientific information

The researchers found that many parents (44.7%) of adolescents believed in certain misconceptions about the brain, known as neuromyths. Some neuromyths were particularly convincing, for instance many parents thought “sugary snacks make children less attentive” (77.8%) and that “people with a dominant left brain hemisphere are analytical, while right-brained individuals are creative” (71.2%). Interestingly, the level of education and reading neuroscientific articles influenced how well parents understood general brain knowledge (the ability to read papers/source information). However, when it came to parents’ views on adolescent brain development, believing in neuromyths was associated with a more negative outlook, whereas neuroscience literacy did not significantly impact their views in this context.

B.Belief in Neuromyths and Neuroscience Literacy Shape Parenting Approaches

About two-thirds (64.7%) of the parents in the survey reported that they had sometimes modified their parenting tactics in light of what they had learned from neuroscience studies. Interestingly, the researchers found there was a difference between parents raising their first child through adolescence versus parents who had already experienced parenting through adolescence with an older child. The number of parents changing their parenting style as a result of what they had learnt was equal to the number of parents who had not changed their parenting style for those who were raising their first child.. However, a sizable majority (75%) of parents who had already experienced adolescence with an older child had changed their parenting strategies in response to what they had learned from neuroscience. Fig 1 depicts that when parents get more experience with adolescent kids, they are more likely to base their parenting decisions on neuroscientific knowledge.

This figure is a graphical representation of parents changing their parenting style with respect to the information they perceive about the teenage brain.
Fig 1 - The graph depicts whether parents changed their parenting behaviors (yes/no on the questionnaire) based on scientific research about the adolescent brain. Most parents who had previously raised an adolescent made changes compared to those with their first adolescent child. Figure 1 in the paper used under CC BY 4.0

The Impact

Benneker et al. emphasise the significance of providing parents with accurate and nuanced neuroscience information and advice on effectively applying this knowledge to parenting. Neuroscience communicators must therefore recognise parents as an important target audience and stakeholder. By providing accurate and accessible neuroscience information and combating neuromyths, neuroscience communicators can empower parents in their role, encourage good parenting practices, and improve the lives of both parents and adolescent children. Parents can use more informed and productive parenting techniques as a result of being educated about the facts of adolescent brain development, which is advantageous for both parents and their kids. Science communicators can understand that it's essential to bridge the gap between scientific research and parenting by providing accurate and accessible neuroscience information to empower parents in their role. More research is required in this area to give parents who are struggling to raise teenagers specific solutions and assistance.

Edited by : Sam Ridgeway

Cover image credit: [pexels/ Karolina Grabowska]


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