Understanding the Teenage Brain [Guest]

There’s a longstanding joke among the residents of Nebraska. The Midwesterners claim that if you don’t like the weather, you only need to wait 10 minutes.

In a state where you can experience the joy of snow and 80 degree weather within a 24 hour period, you can understand where this position originates. A positive outlook can help endure the unpredictable elements and ensure the security of the local weatherman’s job. It is better to embrace Mother Nature’s moods with humor than wallow in self pity.Just like the weather, teenage behaviors are at the mercy of several factors: physical development, hormones, and emotional understanding.

Nonetheless, when we have the right tools (like an umbrella to keep us dry when raining) raising teenagers can be a great journey. Knowing what to expect from our children, and understanding what is going on in their brains can help us “ease the storm” and enjoy the wonderful ride of helping our teens become adults.

Understanding The Adolescent Brain

Wouldn’t it be nice to predict what teenage mood will blow through your doorway?

Predicting an adolescent’s disposition can be a tricky endeavor. It can be similar to the hit and miss weather forecasts on the six o’clock news. Researchers are gathering data to help us understand the development of an adolescent’s brain and their judgment skills.

These experts are unraveling a bit of the teenage mystery in terms of explaining their angst, erratic mood shifts, or poor judgment. Taking an in-depth look at how a teenage brain develops and matures can help remove some of the mystery behind a juvenile’s actions.

Take for instance, the prevalence of early childhood education and the push to educate parents about the brain’s important growth occurring during this stage of life. There has been a large area of focus on the toddler years that has produced a vast array of educational insight and interventions. Educators promote optimal learning experiences for the younger sect, with minimal insights offered to unravel the teenage psyche.

Decoding Teen Behaviors

Surprisingly, the brain undergoes a surge of growth during adolescence that is vital to developing a person’s emotions, judgment, and complex thinking.

Just because a teenager looks like an adult and can compute lengthy mathematical equations, it doesn’t mean their brains are fully matured. The stark reality is that their brains are still developing and lack the function to make appropriate decisions and evaluate risks.

A human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 when the last of its four main lobes mature. This final section, the prefrontal cortex, regulates judgment and self-control. The teenage brain is also ladled with missing connections and synapses, which influence risk-assessment and judgment skills.

This transitional period in a child’s life is full of risk factors that are heavily influenced by hormones and emotions. These alterations can affect a teen’s brain development. This leaves them open to peer pressure and susceptible to poorer impulse control. These biological forces are the reason between the ages of 15 to 19 people face higher mortality and injury rates. Crime and alcohol abuse are also elevated during this age span when they are compared to other age groups.

Most adolescents emerge unharmed from these tumultuous years, but understanding how a child’s maturity and the teenage brain shape their rational thinking helps shed light on their behaviors.

Weathering The Emotional Ride

Teens are undergoing radical physical and chemical changes in their bodies. Awkwardness and impaired rationalizing skills are almost guaranteed to go hand-in-hand with adolescence. They may not plan to be squalling mad or twisting with laughter at 10-minute intervals, but their anatomy is being flooded with mixed signals, which are out of their control.

Their brains process information and learn quickly, but they are more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation, alcohol, and sensory overload. Teens are still learning how to decode emotions and correctly read facial expressions, which can lead to misunderstandings or appropriate responses to situations.

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to get updates or alerts to changing teen moods or behaviors like the weather. Parents and educators need to rely on understanding available information to help ride out the storm of teenage hormones and risky judgment calls.

An Extended Forecast

As parents, similar to the natives of the Cornhusker State, we can experience a wide fluctuation of teen behaviors on any given day. One minute they are good as gold–yes, sometimes even polite and well mannered. Then, suddenly in a flash, they are slamming doors and crying in their rooms.

The good news is that science and parental direction can enrich a teen’s overall experience and brain development. Maintaining open lines of communication, setting clear expectations, and proper guidance can help families navigate the stormy years of adolescence.

Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. 

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