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The Adolescent Brain

By Raynny Paula

September 14, 2022

UPDATED 12:00 PM EST



[Photo credit: Momentous Institute]


We all know how different the behaviors of teenagers and adults are. At times, it seems like teens don't fully consider the consequences of their actions, or even make decisions differently and more impulsively.

However, what you may not know is that there is a biological explanation for this difference which involves the development of the brain throughout childhood and adolescence and well into early adulthood.

A specific region of the brain - the amygdala - is responsible for immediate reactions, including fear and aggressive behavior, which are developed earlier than others. But, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later. This difference in the brain’s regions occurs more intensely during adolescence, justifying some of popular behaviors in teenagers, such as:

  • acting on impulse;

  • misreading or misinterpreting social cues and emotions;

  • getting involved in fights

Subsequently, teens also lack on

  • thinking before they act

  • considering the consequences of their actions

  • changing dangerous or inappropriate behaviors


As a big influence on daily’s teenagers’ lives, it is important to learn even a little bit about the functioning of the brain during adolescence. Thus, down below are some important/curious facts that every teenager should know about:

  1. Mental disorders appear easier during adolescence.

Ongoing changes in the brain, along with physical, emotional, and social changes, can make teens vulnerable to mental health problems. All the big changes the brain is experiencing may explain why adolescence is a time when many mental disorders—such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders—can emerge.

  1. Teen brains are more vulnerable to stress.

Because the teen brain is still developing, teens may respond to stress differently than adults. Mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to the present moment, may help teens cope with and reduce stress.

  1. Teens need more sleep than children and adults.

Research shows that melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) levels in the blood are naturally higher later at night and drop later in the morning in teens than in most children and adults. This difference may explain why many teens stay up late and struggle with getting up in the morning. Teens should get about 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, but most teens do not get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention, may increase impulsivity, and may increase the risk for irritability or depression.

  1. The teen brain is the best version for learning and adaptation.

The teen brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt, and respond to its environment very quickly. Challenging academics or mental activities, exercise, and creative activities such as art can help the brain mature and learn.

As UCLA neuroscientist Adriana Galvan, who studies the adolescent brain, said, “At no other time in life is there greater intrinsic motivation to explore new experiences than during adolescence.”


References

US Department of Health. “The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Teen Brain: Behaviour, Problem Solving, and Decision Making.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2022, ttps://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Teen-Brain-Behavior-Problem-Solving-and-Decision-Making-095.aspx


Anne Clarkson. “What’s so unique about the teenage brain?” Parenthetical, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2017, https://parenthetical.wisc.edu/2017/10/09/whats-so-unique-about-the-teenage-brain/


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