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Insight into the Teenage Brain

The teenage brain is really good at seeking out new experiences, enjoying thrills and seeking out risks, says  Adriana Galván – Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Research Institute at UCLA.

As teens grow and develop, it can be tempting to assume that they can think and behave just like adults. A little bit of time with a teen, however, can starkly demonstrate just how differently they think and act, and it is all due to brain development.

The Teenaged Brain

A brain is like a complicated entertainment system that includes the cable box, television, blue-ray player, and surround sound that is all connected through wires. For adults, the parts of the brain work together using a similar system of wires called synapses.

The teenaged brain, however, has all of the parts, just not all of the wires are hooked up. There may be too many input and output jacks in some places and not enough in others. Plus, teens have the distinct disadvantage of experiencing brain development from the back of the brain to the front.

The very back of the brain that is connected to the spine controls our involuntary functions. Moving up from there, we encounter the hormonal and emotional centers of the brain. Last to develop is the frontal lobe, which controls rational thought, judgment, and self-control.

Teen develop mirrors the development of a baby during his or her first year, soaking up everything the world has to offer. Like young children, teens need guidance, understanding, and patience from adults so that they can learn how to safely navigate the world.

Spell Out the Rules

There are definitely some life issues that teens need to work out on their own. There are, however, specific details that adults cannot assume that teens understand from a developmental standpoint. Due to brain development, teens are not able to realize the long-term consequences of their actions. It may also be a great idea to help the teacher with ideas to decorate your classroom in a way that’s attractive to young teenagers.

Take, for example, the teens who love to babysit to earn extra money. Many parents of young children are ill-prepared to hire a teen to babysit simply because they have not done it before, and do not realize that teens may need extra support. As teenagers are developmentally susceptible to peer pressure, they need specific instructions when it comes to appropriate behavior during babysitting jobs. These expectations can include whether or not the babysitter’s friends can come over, what the children are allowed to watch on television and when, and how much the babysitter should use his or her phone during the evening.

Spelling out the rules and expectations with teens may feel redundant or awkward, but it is a necessary practice to help teens employ critical thinking skills as their brains develop.

It Won’t Happen to Me

While the idea of “it won’t happen to me” travels with us well into adulthood, never is that a more deeply held belief than when we are teenagers. Hormones are the driving force of behavior and the reasoning of the frontal context doesn’t really kick in until the mid-twenties. Due to this imbalance, teens rationalize all kinds of risky behaviors because they don’t really believe that negative consequences will happen to them.

Not only that, teenagers have the ability to be trustworthy and responsible in some areas and not in others. For example, a teen who gets really good grades and has a part-time job could still be texting while driving or participating in unsafe sex. So first and foremost, let’s help them. They deserve it!

Teens, Brain Development, and the Internet

The internet doesn’t help teens curb unsafe behavior. Not understanding that there really is no such thing as privacy online, teens tend to post thoughts, feelings, and selfies that they may regret later. They may take photos or videos that they think are private but are actually accessible by apps and other people online.

It’s important for parents to work with their teens, helping them by providing reasonable expectations and rules. Parents need to take the time and effort to keep lines of communication open, providing a safe place for teens to land.