Brain development is top discussion these days. That’s because there’s lot of change in the teen brain starting at puberty. The brain grows. There are more brain cells (neurons) and they connect better, they transfer information quicker and more efficiently. The growth is in all areas of the brain, so the communication across the brain improves. The brain is like a muscle, the areas that get used grow stronger, and the ones that don’t get used disappear. This growth happens for quite a while. It is not complete until somewhere in ages 25 -30.
Something important to point out is that this increase of communication across the brain provides the foundation for the development of the “higher level executive functioning” skills. What’s an executive function skill and why is it important for teens?
Planning ahead. Strategizing. Organizing. Logical reasoning. Weighing risks and rewards. Making judgments. Making decisions. Working memory. Regulating moods. Managing impulses.
Teens are often drawn to emotional intensity (thrills, excitement, adventures, risk-taking) – activities like snowboarding off a roof! This can bring with it: RISKIER BEHAVIORS. Young people do understand the risk of these behaviors (research has shown this) but they often assess risks and benefits differently than adults.
- What’s top for early adolescents? Fitting in, feeling normal with normal being their friends. Having fun.
- They analyze the risks and benefits of behaviors differently than we do and assess their personal level of risk. Think about drinking at a party. What are the positive and negative consequences from adult and teen perspective?
||Not very important
||Can have fun other ways
||Really important to have fun like my friends do.
|Getting pregnant, crashing a car, losing place on sports team
||Big issue, life changing, AVOID AT ALL COSTS
||Not good but it didn’t happen to me last time (last 5 times) I drank, so I must be immune.
Add to all of this that teens are often inconsistent in planning & reasoning (those are skills they are learning). Also, teens are learning how to CONTROL EMOTIONS: Think of the teen who spews verbal emotional venom at you and then can’t tell you why. Along with emotions are 2 related signs: Being impulsive and focused on self (we’ve heard that before!) – This self-focus makes it hard for them to think about the effects of their behavior on other people. They look like they’re selfish and rude. But thinking of others requires insight, and insight requires a fully developed brain (still working on that one)
Just to be clear about brain development, it’s not about teens being unable to control their emotions and always making bad decisions, impulsive, self-focused. Instead, teens can control emotions, impulses, behaviors but just not routinely, consistently. They are still learning, and they really need PRACTICE!