THE BLOG
11/08/2014 11:01 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2015

Rich Kids: Money and the Teenage Brain

Cyndi Lauper had a hit in the 1980s called "Money Changes Everything." She has a point. It may or may not buy happiness, but access to money does change things, including endowing the person with power.

Now, take a teenager and give them that power. What happens?

Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and other teen stars who have crashed to earth in a shower of tabloid sparks, may only be doing what a great many teenagers would be doing -- if they could.

There are teenagers like Justin Bieber on every block. But imagine the kid who cuts your lawn suddenly being rich.

The same teen brain that convinces its host that he won't get caught if he throws a party at the house while mom and dad are away now lives in a mansion, with a Lamborghini outside. Woohoo!

It's long been said that by age 5 or 6, a child's brain is 95 percent of its adult size. But neuroscientists, enlightened by MRI technology, are discovering it is still changing -- creating connections, adding and shedding cells. That process is particularly active in the prefrontal cortex -- the part that makes judgments like drag racing through residential neighborhoods.

Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, led studies that found the teen brain development was a process of adding and pruning. Significantly, he said, brain cells at that age are influenced by what the teen does. If they play sports or music, the brain cells will make connections that help with that. If they sit on the couch and play video games or are shopping all the time, then the cells will be hardwired for those activities.

The only real moderating influence -- as it is for any teenager -- is the parents. But instilling discipline and values can be a daunting exercise for some parents. For a whole host of reasons it is difficult for some parents to tell their child they can't buy the latest Prada handbag or have the car at night.

Some parents -- like the Lohans -- are simply not up to the job. Others -- like the parents of Britney Spears or Amanda Bynes -- may have had their job complicated by what appear to be mental problems.

Still, for every Justin Bieber, there is a Ron Howard, Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster -- child stars who navigated the rocky shoals of teen years into successful adulthood. Actor Rance Howard, in an interview, said he raised well-adjusted child star sons, Clint and Academy-award winning Ron, by removing their money from the family's life.

Let's hope rich kids will find their way. But romping in a mountain of money like most kids play in a pile of leaves -- and in the case of celebrities who are surrounded by an entourage of dependent cheerleaders -- will not make it easy. As the developing cells of the teenage brain react to the world around them -- money does change everything.