Are you smarter than your parents?

Isannah Marley

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






You come home from a long day at school and are feeling highly irritable. The instant that you shut the door, your mother tells you that you’re dumb after seeing your last test grade, so you yell back, “Teenagers are smarter than adults, you know!”

The difference in age between these two groups have caused unresolved tension. It’s commonly perceived as a black and white situation. Unless you are a little kid, this debate has remained relevant as a constant presence hovering over you during your life. It seems to be passed down through generations. But what could be the answer to the controversial question: who’s smarter, teens or adults?

Michelle Leimsider, the assistant principal of the NYC iSchool, believes that intelligence “depends on the person and their experiences…the word smart gets thrown around quite a bit and means very different things to very different people.”

Teenagers are often thought to be stereotyped as reckless, and there is scientific evidence to prove that this assumption is true. When it comes to practicality, teens are more likely to rely on their emotions when it comes down to it.

In fact, the human brain is not fully developed until the teenage years are over. The prefrontal cortex, which deals with practical thinking and decision making, is not quite done growing in the brain of a young adult: …the area of the brain involved in decision-making, planning and self-control, is the last part to mature,” said Alexandra Sifferman in Why Teenage Brains Are So Hard To Understand. “…this mismatch in development of the impulse-control part of the brain and the hormone- and emotion-fueled part of the brain is what causes the risk-taking behaviors that are so common among teenagers.”

Don’t give all the credit to the adults though. Neil Howe, a historian who has written books such as Millennials Rising, wrote that the teens of today have become accommodated to society’s structures very proficiently, and are learning to function very well, “today’s teens have accepted the structures of society and have learned to work within those boundaries. Teenagers also have better hand-eye coordination and technology skills. You may be able to google something a bit faster than your grandfather, but that does not necessarily mean you’re any better when it comes to peer pressure.

As teenagers grow older beyond childhood, their biases and prejudices change. Younger kids are not exposed to much of the prejudice our world has to offer, their opinions may be more neutral. A Business Insider article written by Jeffrey Tucker writes, “Kids have fewer biases and hence are better able to discern emergent social norms rooted in subjective valuation that elude adults…” This makes children far less vulnerable to societal norms and opinions, but as they grow older, accustoms to these confines become more standard to function in daily life.

Additionally, there is an powerful stigma surrounding a teenager’s intelligence based on their grades. According to the American Psychiatric Association, if you perceive your intelligence as “changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed,” it will likely result in “‘greater academic achievement, especially for people whose groups bear the burden of negative stereotypes about their intelligence” such as teenagers. Intelligence is not a fixed quotient throughout one’s entire life, and it can be altered with a change in mindset.

The capacity for an individual’s intelligence is not determined by their age, but how logical and efficient their thought processes are can vary due to the contrasting aspects of the brain development at different ages. However, this by no means is proof that your grandfather is any smarter than 16-year-old Albert Einstein (It’s not showing that he couldn’t be, though).

A freshman at the NYC iSchool, Shoshana Hirschmann, spoke about the issue of contrasting intelligences, “adults are a bit more educated, but a teen’s mind is a bit more flexible.” Hirschmann adds that “they think of different possibilities while trying to solve problems.” As adults are often much more “caught in their ways,” teens have a better ability to “think outside of the box.” She also feels that young adults are more efficient at collecting new information.

Ms. Leimsider believes that teens may be ”experts on living their experience right now, just as everyone is. Though, adults can sometimes see long term results of behavior.” She explains that being a grown up can make you more perceptive to determining how a teenager’s current behavior can affect a result towards the rest of their life. Leimsider adds that because of an adult’s “brain development, they have more capacity to think about the big picture and long term effects.”

Much evidence further proves that you may be smarter than your mother, but don’t get too ahead of yourself. There is a lot of evidence that favors the latter as well. Perhaps we all shouldn’t be so focused on the differences, since the only one who really knows how capable and clever you could possibly be is you.