NPR reported on a new study finding the intelligence of teenagers is not stable. They describe it instead as a “work in progress.” The idea seems to be kids are smarter some days than others. If this is correct, it definitely accounts for a lot. We know sometimes adolescents can be quite mature and responsible while at other times they don’t seem to have the sense God gave a goose, as Grandpa used to say.

The phenomenon might also account for other apparent inconsistencies such as A’s one day and F’s the next in school, pleasant conversations interspersed with a seeming inability to communicate, generally good choices and decisions coexisting with instances of behavior and judgment that just leave adults shaking their heads.

If the study accurately reflects reality, it may be teenagers are merely at an intermediate stage of some sort. We all experience intellectual peaks and valleys, with the fluctuations varying with age. Younger children are slowly coming out of the intellectual valley, with occasional peaks leading parents to mostly think their children are above average and probably brilliant. Adults gradually move onto the smartness plane where they rarely do really dumb things but equally rarely do anything extraordinary. Teens represent the group who are in the enviable place where there is no way to tell how high or low they will settle on the smartness plane as adults. It is a time of possibility, a time of pure potential.

Perhaps Woodrow Wilson was prescient or maybe just experiencing an intellectual peak of his own when he said, “We should not only use the brains we have, but all that we can borrow.” Either way, he pointed the way to resolving this aggravating peaks and valleys problem. Unfortunately, we are too often frustratingly slow to pick up on the power of Wilson’s proposal.

For younger children, we are quick to provide schools, teachers, tutors, and endless support and guidance as they work themselves out of the intellectual valley toward a higher plane. Granted we are not very even handed about which children get how much assistance but nonetheless, we are virtually unanimous in believing kids need and deserve our help as their young minds develop. As pre–teens transition into adolescence, our enthusiasm for this process does wanes some, as more and more young people loose access to the brain bank; but children are still borrowing and we continue to more or less support their development toward a higher intellectual plane.

As the teens shift into adult mode they move farther and farther from quick and easy access to the brain bank, as the years go by. Borrowing brain power to compensate for the inevitable intellectual valleys becomes exclusively a matter of individual responsibility and conscious choice. We have to actively seek out any extra or supplemental brain stuff we want or need. We can but fondly remember those carefree days when we were magically spoon–fed all the brain food we could handle, with no special effort from us. It was just there for the munching.

Don’t you just hate the intellectual ebb and flow?

Some days you are really sharp and others only so–so.

It can be quite frustrating when the smart tank gets too low.

That’s when a brain power loan is the smartest way to go.

Now you know so there you go.