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It's hard being a teenager, right?

You go through all

these changes that you don't even understand. Well it's a
good thing you picked up this book because it will help you
understand the changes you or your child is going
through. It's also good information to know.
What happens to the brain during teenage years?
Your brain typically remodels very intensely during
adolescence continuing into the mid-20s. Adolescence is a
time of significant growth and development inside the
teenage brain.
Brain changes can happen before puberty and in some
cases long after. It's not the same for everybody. Brain
changes depend on age, experience, and hormonal
changes in puberty.
The main change is that unused connections in the
thinking and processing part of the brain, gray matter, is
pruned away for the brain to become more efficient. This
pruning process begins in the back of the brain and ends
in the front or prefrontal cortex-the decision making part of
the brain. Due to the fact that the prefrontal cortex is still
developing, teenagers might tend to rely on a part of the
brain called the amygdala to solve problems more than
adults. The amygdala is associated with emotions,
impulses, aggression, and instinctive behavior. This is why

a lot of teenagers act on their impulses or emotions

instead of stopping and thinking before they do things.
Not Everyone's Brain Is The Same
Different parts of the brain don't grow the same. For
example, the prefrontal cortex- sits behind the eyes- is not
fully mature until the age of 24, while the amygdala is fully
mature much earlier than 24. There are also many
differences in brain growth between boys and girls. On
average, boy's brains are larger than girls brains. The
amygdala and cerebellum are also reported to grow faster
in males than females. The hippocampus, on the other
hand, is reported to grow faster in girls than boys. The
hippocampus is associated with emotions, memory, and
the nervous system. Boys and girls also develop certain
skills at different paces. Two major parts in the brain that
show these differences are the prefrontal cortex and the
corpus callosum. First, the prefrontal cortex. During
adolescence, girls have better organizational skills and
boys are still working on those skills. Girls are about two
years ahead of boys. Second, the corpus callosum. It has
to do with complicated language thinking. Girls often get
better at writing essays, and boys- even if they are very
intelligent- struggle with writing their thoughts until a little
bit later.

Now A Little More About What Happens In the Brain

I know I've mentioned a little about the prefrontal cortex,
but there's so much more to learn about it and how it
relates to the other parts of a teenagers developing brain.
The prefrontal cortex is basically the brains remote
control. It weighs outcomes, forms judgements, controls
impulses and emotions. The prefrontal cortex also helps
people understand one another. The prefrontal cortex
communicates with other sections of the brain through
connections called synapses. Teenagers experience a
wealth of growth in synapses during adolescence. After
the synapses are trimmed, an insulating substance called
myelin coats the synapses to protect them.
Teenage Brains and Adult Brains
Everyone knows that teenagers act way differently than
adults. It's just normal. But, we don't exactly know the
cause. Well, studies have shown that most of the mental
energy that teens use in making decisions is located in the
back of the brain. It's funny because the studies show that
adults use the frontal lobe to make decisions. That's crazy,
right? Teenagers and adults are one different ends of the
brain. That's why there is kind of a disconnect with parents
and their teenage sons and daughters. Now why don't
teens use the frontal lobe? When teens use the frontal
lobe, they can overdo it because they can call more of the

brain then they need to make a decision. Adults have

already mastered those communicating synapses, so they
can make decisions more quickly and efficiently. Adult
brains are also wired to notice errors in decision-making.
In another study that was conducted, adults performed
tasks that required the quick response of pushing buttons.
Their brain would send out a signal whenever a mistake
was made. Before 80 milliseconds had passed, the adult
brains noticed the mistake, but the teenage brains didn't
notice anything. It's amazing how different teenage brains
and adult brains are. It just shows that teenage brains
have to go through a lot of development, physically and
Teen Brain Functions and Behavior
An area of a teens brain that is fairly developed early on
and causes a lot of problems, is the nucleus accumbens,
or the area that seeks pleasure and reward. Teenagers
can seem unpredictable and sometimes they like to be
rebellious and engage in risky behavior. Parents can give
them good advice and they will most likely ignore their
parents or they really just don't understand. A combination
of the prefrontal cortex and a heightened need for
pleasure, could drive teenagers to do some pretty risky
behavior. Adults think that climbing hotel balconies or
skateboarding off the roofs of houses sound like terrible

ideas. Their prefrontal cortex fights off the impulse to do

so because the negative outcomes outweigh the thrill.
Teens may try these things because theyre seeking a
buzz to satisfy the reward center, while their prefrontal
cortex can't register all the risks these actions entail. Some
other examples are when a teenager goes to the movies,
but comes home with an iPod or spends an hour on the
internet instead of doing homework. The prefrontal cortex
didn't fight the urge to buy or go on the internet. The
appeal of fun is too strong now. In some cases risk taking
is necessary in the evolution of teenagers, otherwise the
teens would have a pretty boring life.
Now I'm sure you've heard that teenagers are very likely to
get addicted to drugs and alcohol. In that developing
prefrontal cortex, synapses are selected whether they're
used or not, so behaviors are more likely to be maintained
if started at this age. The brain is acting a bit like a
sponge; it can soak up new information and change and
make room for it, a concept known as plasticity. Plasticity
can help or hinder teens because it allows them to pick up
new skills.
A Healthy Teenage Brain
Brain growth and development during the teenage years
allows teens to:
- Think more logically

- Think about things more abstractly

- Pick up more on emotions
- Solve more complex problems in a logical way and
see problems from different perspectives
- Get a better perspective on the future
Teenage Development
Weve talked a lot about what happens in the brain. It's a
lot to soak in, right? There's a whole lot more that happens
physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally.
In high school, the physical changes and differences
between boys and girls are very noticeable. Boys are
hitting the age when they start to grow and girls are
actually starting to slow down. By the end of the high
school years, girls are most likely going to stay at the
height they are for the rest of their lives. Boys are often
still growing and gaining muscles. Both genders
experience increased sex hormones.
This is what happens cognitively. Teenagers in high
school can get more curious about the world. Teens are
likely to make educated guesses, think abstractly, set
goals for the future, make decisions, understand
consequences of actions, and develop strong sense of
what is right and wrong.
What happens socially and emotionally?There are many
different social and emotional changes that happen in

teenager, but they happen at different ages. At the age of

14, teenagers can recognize their strength and
weaknesses, feel embarrassed by family, and want to be
accepted or fit in. At the age of 15, teenagers get more
irritable and don't want to talk as much and can be
argumentative, they can appreciate siblings more than
their parents, lose some friends, maybe start dating, and
analyze their feelings and the cause. By the ages of 16 to
18, they should be able to relate to their family better,
develop a better sense of who they are, spend a lot of time
with friends, and voice emotions and try to find solutions.
Some responsibilities that occur are working, homework,
taking the ACT/SAT, applying for college, learning to drive.
Forming An Identity
Adolescence is the beginning of discovering who you
are. Changes in the brain give teenagers the tools to start
building identity. There are two aspects of identityself-concept and self-esteem. Self- concept is what a
person believes about him or herself. It is determined by a
persons perceptions about his or her talents, qualities,
goals, and life experiences. It can also include religious
and political beliefs. Self-esteem refers to how people feel
about their self-concept. Self-esteem is affected by
approval from parents or other adults, support from friends
and family, and personal success. Young people figure out

self-concept and esteem through five developmental

tasks: becoming independent, establishing social status,
experiencing intimacy, and determining sexual identity.
Sleep is an essential factor in brain development. The
average amount of sleep is nine hours. During the
teenage years, sleeping patterns will change because the
brain produces melatonin- a hormone that helps regulate
your sleep and wake cycles- at a different time of the day.
This is the culprit of a teens exhaustion in the evening, it
can keep teens awake at night, and make them not want
to get up in the morning.
Stress and the Teenage Brain
Stress is just one of the factors that leads to poor mental
health. Stress is the body's reaction to a challenge. Good
and bad things create stress. Body responds to stress by
activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The
hormones speed up heart rate, breathing rate, blood
pressure, and metabolism. Teens feel the pressure. All the
rapid changes- physical, cognitive, and emotional- cause
stress. The response to stress can help a person react
quickly and perform well while under pressure. It can also
cause problems when it overreacts or goes on too long. It
can wear out the body, weaken the immune system, and

make a person feel exhausted. Difficulties with handling

stress can lead to mental health problems: depression,
anxiety, etc.
These are few things that can cause teenagers stress:
- School/ Homework
- Peer pressure
- Drugs, alcohol, sex
- Career decisions
- Jobs
- Dating/ Friendships
- Pressure to fit in
- Body image
- Family conflicts
- Bullies
- Not having any relaxation time
Is it Challenging?
From reading the stress section, you already know the
answer to this question. If you are an adult, you definitely
experienced a lot of it when you were a teenager. It is very
challenging. The brain undergoes major neural growth and
pruning. There are also many complex changes in the
body and mind. It is often difficult for teens because they
have no clue what's going on or how to handle all of it. I
hope all of this information have you a better
understanding of teenagers.

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