“The New Science of the Teenage Brain,” ’s October cover story, is a “must-read” if youare the parent of a teenager or you interact with teens. Brain imaging technology shows us that adolescence is a key time for brain remodeling and wiring — a highly adaptive and functional period, as the brain continues to develop well into our mid-twenties.
The physical changes in the brain move slowly from the rear to the front. The rear of the brain, by the stem, is where we process functions such as vision and movement. The front of the brain is where more complicated thinking and processing occurs, along with goal setting and evaluation of different agendas. In teens, the front of the brain is still developing. As we age our ability to integrate memory and experience into our decisions improves.
Research has found that teens tend to make less use of the part of the brain that monitors performance, spots errors, plans, and stays focused. They use more of the brain that deals with impulse. However, when offered an extra reward, teens push the decision-making regions of the brain a little harder. Thus, richer rewards make the executive region of the brain more effective. This is one of the reasons why video games are so successful. They are fast, exciting and filled with lots of rewards.
The teen brain weighs risk vs. reward differently than adults. Teens love new and exciting things. They’ll take a higher risk for the thrill of it as well as for the social rewards, such as approval of friends. They react strongly to social ups and downs because that is a big part of their world. Teens are closely connected to their friends. They follow and learn from them.
So where do we draw the line with helping vs. hindering our kids? How do we guide our children to make the best decisions when they are not fully equipped to do so? Studies show that kids do better in life when parents are involved and guide their children with a “light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence.” It’s a matter of being involved while creating a safe and somewhat protected environment where the teen feels like he or she is in control of decisions that matter to them.
As with all relationships, understanding another’s perspective is key. Knowing the teen brain is undergoing massive reorganization and growth during these prime years may help make the process a little easier. Give some thought to turning situations into a game. Include a series of rewards. Evaluating the risk vs. reward from a teen perspective may bring a whole new light to the situation.
If you find your stress level increasing as you interact with your teen, take a time-out. Breathe. Create some space. “Freeze-frame” the situation on a positive note and flow loving energy to yourself and your teen. Then come back and try again when your energy is clear, coherent and abundant. As adults, we set examples for our children. Although they may be taking cues from their friends, they are watching us. They want to know what to do, yet they want it to be their decision. Gently offering a perspective based on wisdom and experience, vs. parental authority has a better chance of penetrating the teen brain than taking a heavy-handed approach that may hinder or shut down communication channels.
- Online Course Explores the Teenage Brain (psychologytoday.com)
- FINALLY! A Scientific Explanation For Why Teen Brains Are Different (businessinsider.com)
- “An exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature” – The Teenager (19pencils.com)