The teenage brain is a crazy place. Behavior, logical thinking, motivation, and moods are all fluctuating on what seems like a daily basis. There’s a reason that your teenager seems so unpredictable, and so different from how she used to be. Much of it can be explained by how her brain is developing.
The teenage brain is different from that of an adult, and different from that of a child. During the teen years, the brain develops more than at any other time except for early childhood.
The Prefrontal Cortex Is Still Developing
One of the biggest discrepancies between the brain at adolescence and the brain during adulthood is the development of the prefrontal cortex. Connections and control are still being built there, and this is important, because the prefrontal cortex has a big job to do. It moderates most of the higher brain functioning that we do, including making plans, controlling impulses, as well as defining self-awareness and reading other people.
So, if it can seem crazy to you that your teen isn’t yet able to rein in her temper, or she seems to have an overblown estimation of her own importance in the world… well, it might have some foundation in her brain’s development.
A Hypersensitive Limbic System
The limbic system is sometimes called the “emotional brain” because it controls emotional response and memory. The limbic system is passionate and sometimes irrational. It’s also is directed in large part by the reward system of the brain, which rewards us for things that have direct relation on our instinctual survival: things like eating, libido, and social interaction.
Perhaps in large part because of the lag in the prefrontal cortex development, teens are more likely to rely on the limbic system in decision-making and social interaction. Another important thing to remember is that the teenage brain is more sensitive to the rewards of social interaction and approval than we are at any other time in our lives. This can explain why teens seem to feel like their very survival depends on the approval of their peers. It also explains how teens get into trouble together.
Important Pruning is Happening
The highest levels of gray matter in the brain are found during adolescence. While we don’t know everything about the practical function of gray matter, it seems to be directly proportionate to brain development and strengthening. It may be used to forge connections in the brain during these developmental phases. After the peak of gray matter production, the brain moves in the opposite direction and prunes instead. Connections that aren’t used are lost, and ones that are used are strengthened. That’s why so much of this period of time determines what kind of person an individual will become.
Who Will Your Teenager Become?
Information about the development of the teen brain is comforting to many parents because it helps them know that certain things are only temporary. However, it’s also important to realize one more thing about the teenage brain. We learn better and adapt new behaviors better at this time than at any other. That’s why teaching teens important principles about emotional intelligence, compassion, purpose, religion, and communication is essential. There will never be a better time for them to learn and grow.[/fusion_text]