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Whatever! The Science of Teens (ATOM Study Guide)

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Teenagers are a uniquely human phenomenon, other animals skip this phase altogether, developing rapidly from infancy to adulthood. At no other time in our lives do our physical and social attributes change so dramatically.

Teenagers seem to live in a world of their own design and creation – a world summed up best with one very commonly used word – 'Whatever!' We all know the clichés, but are teens just designed to defy? Or is this latest batch of Australian teenagers really a 'new teen order'?

Whatever! The Science of Teens is a five-part series which explores the science that drives adolescent behaviour. The science is explained by Australia's leading scientific and behavioural experts who comment along the way and conduct some unusual, but enlightening experiments.

In each episode, Australian teenagers are used to illustrate the biology behind the bad behaviour. It's not simply a matter of raging hormones, the teens also act as 'lab rats' for regular experiments that bring the science to life. The presenter, Steve Cannane, documents the teens in their natural habitats, the beach, the mall, the skate park or at wild parties. Steve also takes part in many of the experiments by acting as the adult comparison.

The popular press suggests that the current generation of Aussie adolescents are the wildest yet. It seems they're having more sex than ever before, they're taking bigger risks, their emotions are frazzled, they binge drink at every given opportunity, they sleep all day or are otherwise glued to their mobile phones or video games.

The series explores the latest science that's shedding light on why kids transform into these teen terrors. For years we've just put adolescent attitude down to surging hormones but the most recent research is proving that teen behaviour is actually a product of intricate and complex biological processes, that all serve a purpose in the 'bigger picture'. It may be a difficult time of life, but it really is a matter of 'no pain, no gain'.

Episode 1 – Risk: Why do they do such reckless things? Sex, drugs and alcohol aren't the greatest threat to teenagers – it's their own brain.

Episode 2 – Binge: For years we have thought of teen drinking as a rite of passage and harmless fun but new science is showing us the effects of this permanent hangover.

Episode 3 – Sex: Teens are re-writing the rules of sex but while their bodies suddenly become adult, they're not necessarily in sync with their chief sex organ – the teen brain.

Episode 4 – Mood: Science reveals that irrational, inexplicable teenage mood swings aren't only normal, they're helpful and beneficial – even if they are painful for parents and teens alike.

Episode 5 – Sleep: Sleep: why adolescents like to stay up late, and can't get out of bed in the morning.

Curriculum Links:

These teaching and learning activities have been developed to meet the learning objectives of secondary students in Science, Health education and English. The activities can be used sequentially or teachers may choose activities most suited to their students' needs. Activities are designed to encourage growth across multiple intelligences along with the development of creative and critical thinking skills including reasoning, processing and inquiry, reflection, evaluation and metacognition, and include both independent and co-operative or team learning opportunities to support development of personal and interpersonal or social learning. In addition, students are encouraged to process and share learning and thinking through tasks that encourage the creation and communication of ideas to varied audiences.

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