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Brain Under Construction: The Biology of a Teen's Brain Development

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 17, 2014 1:06:00 PM

amy_williamsToday we are featuring an article and infographic by guest blogger, Amy Williams.  Amy is a freelance journalist, a mother of two, and a former-social worker based in Southern California. Enjoy!

Brain Under Construction: The Biology of a Teen's Brain Development

If the varied function of the human brain wasn't already a mystery, studying the developing brains of teenagers would provide years of scientific exploration. While teenagers appear to be simply mini versions of adults, neuroscientists have discovered that the teenager’s brain development continues into adulthood and can help explain some of their mystifying behaviors.

Disconnect in the Teenage Brain
Scientific studies over the last ten years have discovered that the brains of teenagers develop from the back to the front over several years. The lobes of the brains called the occipital, temporal, and parietal all develop before the frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain that allows humans to practice judgment, planning, and self-control. The rest of the brain isn’t connecting with the frontal lobe as quickly in a teenager as in an adult of 25 years of age and older.

A teenage brain is, in fact, only 80% developed compared to the brain of a mature adult, as connections between parts of the brain are still progressing well into adulthood. This disconnect--and not necessarily hormones--can make for unpleasant communication between the teenager and adults. The teenage brain has a hard time reading emotion and formulating appropriate responses, leading to easy misunderstandings with friends and adults.

A Study in Contradiction
The prefrontal cortex is part of the frontal lobe, and is therefore also underdeveloped in the teenage brain. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that considers the consequences and weighs the risks versus the benefits of specific actions.

This might help explain why a teen who maintains good grades, play sports and works a part-time job on the weekends may get involved with "the wrong crowd" and be susceptible to drinking or drug use. Or why a teenager might go shopping for a new outfit but come back with a new cell phone. The brain power required for impulse control simply isn’t there, along with the challenge of understanding why this behavior isn’t acceptable to the adults who support him or her.

Rest and the Teenage Brain
The teenage brain is working all the time, soaking up information and learning at an astonishing rate during its development. This rate of growth and activity in the brain is exhausting to teens, in addition to the external stimulus that washes over them on a daily basis. It is essential for teens to get more than the “average” number of hours required for a full grown adult to achieve an acceptable amount of sleep.

Help teens relax by limiting their amount of time on their electronic devices can help them maximize time used best for sleeping. This will allow the teenage brain to incorporate information they learned throughout the day and get the rest they need to support the major amount of growth happening during this time in life.

Helping a Teenager With Brain Development
Just because teenagers act like they don’t need adults doesn’t mean that they can handle life’s challenges on their own. Even though they push back, it’s important for adults to stay involved in the lives of teenagers, setting boundaries and keeping the lines of communication open. Intervening in teenagers’ decision-making processes can help promote positive growth in the teenage brain.

The following infographic, “Judgment Call: Maturity, Emotions and the Teenage Brain,” presents the realities of the the development of the teenage brain and how adults can respond to promote responsibility and clear thinking.


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