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10 Facts every parent should know about their teen’s brain

By The Independent Team

10 Facts every parent should know about their teen’s brain

Loosely defined as the years between 11 and 19, adolescence is considered a critical time of development – and not just in outward appearances.

“The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence,” said Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who reviewed the neuroscience in `The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development’.


Parents should understand that no matter how tall their son has sprouted or how grown-up their daughter dresses, “they are still in a developmental period that will affect the rest of their life,” Johnson said.

Blossoming brain

Imaging studies have discovered that a second burst of neuronal sprouting happens right before puberty, peaking at about age 11 for girls and 12 for boys.

The adolescent’s experiences shape this new grey matter, mostly following a “use it or lose it” strategy, Johnson said. The structural reorganisation is thought to continue until the age of 25, and smaller changes continue throughout life.

New thinking skills

Due to the increase in brain matter, the teen brain becomes more interconnected and gains processing power, Johnson said.

Adolescents start to have the computational and decision-making skills of an adult –if given time and access to information, she said.

But in the heat of the moment, their decision-making can be overly influenced by emotions.

“This duality of adolescent competence can be very confusing for parents,” Johnson said, meaning that sometimes teens do things when, if asked, they clearly know better.

Teen tantrums

Adolescents are in the midst of acquiring incredible new skills sets, especially when it comes to social behavior and abstract thought.

They are dealing with a huge amount of social, emotional and cognitive flux and have underdeveloped abilities to cope. They need their parents – those people with the more stable adult brain – to help them by staying calm, listening and being good role models, Feinstein told LiveScience.

Intense emotions

“Puberty is the beginning of major changes in the limbic system,” Johnson said, referring to the part of the brain that not only helps regulate heart rate and blood sugar levels, but also is critical to the formation of memories and emotions.

This may give rise to newly intense experiences of rage, fear, aggression (including towards oneself), excitement and sexual attraction. They often misread teachers and parents, Feinstein said.

“You can be as careful as possible and you still will have tears or anger at times because they will have misunderstood what you have said,” she said.

Peer pleasure

As teens become better at thinking abstractly, their social anxiety increases.

Abstract reasoning makes it possible to consider yourself from the eyes of another. Teens may use this new skill to ruminate about what others are thinking of them. Kids are really concerned with looking cool. Friends also provide teens with opportunities to learn skills such as negotiating, compromise and group planning.

Measuring risk

“The brakes come online somewhat later than the accelerator of the brain,” said Johnson, referring to the development of the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system respectively.

These changes may make teens vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviors, such as trying drugs, getting into fights or jumping into unsafe water.

Like all children, “teens have specific developmental vulnerabilities and they need parents to limit their behavior,” she said.

Parents are still important

One of the tasks of adolescence is separating from the family and establishing some autonomy, Feinstein said, but that does not mean a teen no longer needs parents – even if they say otherwise.

“The parent that decides to treat a 16 or 17 year old as an adult is behaving unfairly and setting them up for failure.”

One of the most influential ways to parent your teen, in addition to being a good listener, is to be a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and other life difficulties, as teens are actively trying to figure out their own coping strategies.

Need more zzzzzzzs

It is a myth that teens need less sleep than young children. They need 9 to 10 hours a night, although most fall short. Sleep-deprivation only exacerbates moodiness and cloudy decision-making. And sleep is thought to aid the critical reorganisation of the teen brain.

I am the center of the universe — and this universe is not good enough!

The hormone changes at puberty have huge effects on the brain, one of which is to spur the production of more receptors for oxytocin, often described as the “bonding hormone”. It makes an adolescent truly feel like everyone is watching him or her.

While this may make a teen seem self-centered, the changes in the teen brain may also spur some of the more idealistic efforts tackled by young people throughout history. They are asking themselves, she continued, for perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be?

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Adopted from the Internet

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