Top critical review
The Book Quickly Wanders Away from its Title Message, Ironically, Like a Teenager with a Short Attention Span
Reviewed in the United States on March 10, 2014
I read with alacrity "Brain Based Parenting: the neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment", on which Daniel J. Seigel was the third author, and gave that book 5 stars in an Amazon.com review. So I started out with high expections for Siegel's more recent work, Brainstorm. Really, I did. Unfortunately the weaknesses of the book far outweighed its strengths, for me anyway, as I'll outline below. There are multiple other books on raising and understanding teenagers I'd recommend before this one, as I'll list at the end.
(1) It's always good to remind oneself of the positive aspects of the developmental phase of the adolescent. Siegel lists these strengths as: intense and spontaneous emotions, intense and powerful peer and social connections, a spark of uniqueness and originality, and a profound search for one's identity and place in the universe. Frustrated parents can easily fall into the trap of seeing only your teenager's faults and negative behaviors. Remembering to see the upside (which is really only discussed in the first chapter of the book) is a good thing.
(2) Somehow Siegel wanders into the topic of healing your brain from trauma. During the course of this digression, he reviews an intriguing theory of psychological trauma (p. 176ff) that painful memories that are 'locked up' in the right hemisphere - the seat of emotion, imagery, and "implicit" (timeless and voiceless) memories - cause intense pain, fear, and flashbacks. When the right and left (verbal, analytic, logical and chronological) brain are integrated, the left side of the brain can give a coherent narrative to the trauma story and place it into a past perspective. Healing from trauma then occurs when what was formerly intense, limitless, and present danger, is transformed into more comprehensible, limited, and coherent past experience. This is a powerful theory of trauma and healing and helps to explain why social connections and social supports aid in the prevention and healing of PTSD. Note: the theory is not presented here for the first time, but Siegel's review of it is interesting.
(1) In contrast to "Brain-Based Parenting", I found the book haphazardly organized and the writing style surprisingly poor. Siegel's sentences were run-on, off topic, and varied irritatingly between medicalese and schmaltzy sentimentality. His topics were all over the map, too: from the title topic, to attachment theory, to general advice for getting enough sleep and eating well, to "Mindsight" exercises for meditation and raising awareness. I was disappointed; I felt the book didn't stick to any consistent theme and was probably a hastily put together collection of blog posts. Search "teenage brain fitness" or "the adolescent brain" on Amazon.com and one will find many appealing titles on the topic that look more propitious than this one.
(2) Siegel's stated intention is to write a book intdended to be read by both parents and their teenagers, perhaps even read aloud from one to another. Despite a number of cute cartoons, I can hardly imagine a teenager in modern America today who could make it successfully through this meandering, poorly written volume. I have one teenager and one pre-teen, and I am involved in volunteering and in contact with many of my daughters' friends (and, well, I also happen to be a psychiatrist and have seen hundreds of teens in crisis through a psychiatric emergency center in Fairfax County, Virginia). The only thing I can say in response to the idea of an American teenager finding this book readable would be "fuggedaboudit." Or maybe "you must be Cray-Cray."
I found the following books infinitely more useful, readable, and enjoyable than Brainstorm: (1) Haim Ginot's "Between Parent and Teenager", (2) Thoms Phelan's "surviving your teenager", (3) Anything by Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D., especially "personal power for teens", (4) "Brain-Based Parenting" (see above), and (5)Ginsburg's "Roots and Wings." I tried hard to find the positives in this book; I read around five books per month so I am not averse to working hard to get something from a read, so I don't give out the dreaded "2 star" rating casually. I had to put this one down for long stretches and really force myself to punch on through, however. There are any number of other books on teenagers and their development I would encourage readers to turn to before, or instead of, this one.