“The young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.”- Aristotle
You know the scenario better than I do. A pile of clothes on the bedroom floor which has been there a long time or breaking the speed limit. Teenagers can be anything from moody, impulsive, verbally abusive, reckless, to being downright maddening and disrespectful. Getting inside the teenage brain is absolutely crucial to coming to terms with all this.
Who are the experts on all these teenagers brain stuff? One parent of teens (they are now in their twenties) is Frances Jensen who was not only a parent but also a neuroscientist. Who better than her to explore the adolescent brain? She has also co-authored a book called The Teenage Brain. Not surprising that it became a bestseller because it answers a lot of questions about how their brains function. Here are 8 facts to keep in mind when you are trying to understand what the hell is going on inside the teenage brain.
Getting Inside the Teenage Brain
1. A big surprise is that the brain takes a long time to develop. So, the part of the brain which is called the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. This will happen when they are in their mid-twenties – long way to go. But the problem is that neurologically speaking, the part of the brain which can weigh up consequences and risks is not fully in sync with the area that gives you feelings of pleasure and reward.
2. The downside of all this is that teenagers can get addicted much quicker and it can affect them more deeply so that they remain on a high for days. It is a sort of sedation. So, getting drunk or getting off on marijuana or other drugs can have lasting consequences because the brain development is being hampered by all this. The US has the highest rate of illegal drug use in the world! It is so easy to get your hands on drugs. This is a very important point because many state states are now thinking of decriminalizing drug use. They quote Portugal which in 12 years was able to reduce drug use by 50%. They concentrated on treating drug users, rather than punishing them. What price brain development?
3. So you thought that the IQ of your kid was set in stone by the age of 7 or 8 Studies now show that the level of IQ can go up or down in the teenage years. So, the level of IQ is not fixed at all. The fact is that in 30% of teenagers, the IQ might rise. In another 30%.it might fall and in the last third, it may actually go down. It is extremely mobile in the teenage years. The best way is to exploit this for all it is worth so that your teen has the best chance of getting in that third where IQ is actually increased. The best way of keeping the teen’s brain stimulated is to work on the teen’s strengths and talents while trying to correct weaknesses.
4. New connections, new experiences are all working to develop fresh pathways in the brain. Connections that are not developed will fall by the wayside. The final insulation of these pathways gets completed during adolescence. Then, the prefrontal cortex will take the longest to develop and that is why a teen will be unable at times to make sound judgments and be good at planning and organization. The good news is that they also start to be better at reasoning, using logic and making critical choices while weighing up the pros and cons.
5. Teachers would do well to remember that they should not be giving complex or multiple instructions at this age. Teens are just learning to prioritize and get organized as these are the last bits of prefrontal cortex abilities to be completed.
6. Teens need to develop their interests and new hobbies and should be encouraged at home and at school within a stimulating environment. Sports, physical education, music, and drama can be discovered and open up new worlds for the teen. Teachers need to get inside the teenager’s brain by encouraging them to role play certain situations so that they can be forced to make decisions and be able to justify them with reasoning and logic. They need to develop negotiating and planning skills.
The United Nations is involved in various projects to get teenagers active in their schools and communities to or prevent drug abuse and other initiatives in their community. You can see their Youth Initiative Facebook group page here.
7. Their emotional needs of a teenager depend more on the amygdala part of the brain as the cortex is still developing. That is why they have an emotional overreaction in many situations and they do not possess full verbal skills to express what they are feeling. They are more likely to feel stressed because they cannot fully control what is going on. That is why they get very angry at times and also why they cry or overreact. Pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules are their ways of coping with a less than fully developed brain.
Parents need to look for ways of asking teens how they feel about certain situations and how they are reacting. It helps them get a perspective on the way they are behaving.
8. Here are a few more inside the teenage brain questions. Is your teen getting enough sleep? Did you know that when the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is released in a teen, it kicks in much later, like 2 hours? That means teens go to bed later and sleep later. One study found that 20% of a teenage group fell asleep in class. Normally, teens need 9 hours sleep. If they are not getting that, the concentration and other mental functions are going to be an uphill task.
Summing It Up
Getting inside a teenage brain enables us to understand what exactly is going and keeping the above 8 points in mind is one way of doing just that. Also, it is great to talk about the changes going on inside the teenage brain. But the best way of all is staying in touch with your teen. If there is tension or distancing due to irregular behavior, the chances of them becoming alienated are greatly increased. The greatest gift you can give a teenager is creating a solid alliance.