Adolescence isn’t an easy time. There is so much growth and development going on that it can be confusing for both you and your teen. One significant area of growth and development for teens at this time is with their brains.
Because it may be hard for you to remember what things were like for you during adolescence, it can be difficult to fully empathize with your teen’s experience today. You might find that your teen is overly emotional or that their actions don’t make any sense to you. They might have a hard time explaining to you what’s going on or maybe they don’t understand you, either. They might even be having interpersonal challenges with others.
However, adolescent brain development is connected to so much of what’s going on for your teen right now. I mean, hormones are racing. Bodies are changing. Identities are forming. All of this is influenced in some way by what’s going on in your teen’s brain.
Understanding Adolescent Brain Development
In the following video, I talk about adolescent brain development in order to help you better understand your teen. The transcript to this video can be found below.
If after watching this video on adolescent brain development you think that your teen could benefit from some additional mental health support, contact me. I offer a free 30-minute phone consultation where we can talk more about what’s going on for your teen. You can also learn more here about the counseling services I provide for children and teens.
[Transcript] “How Your Brain Develops During Adolescence”
Let’s talk about brains. Not brains as in the things that zombies eat, but brains as in your brain. In this video I’m going to talk with you a bit about what’s going on with your brain as a teenager and as well share with you some of the amazing things you can do with your brain once you understand it and yourself.
Right now you might be thinking, “Now that you mention it, what IS going on with my brain? It’s hard to control my thoughts and my feelings right now. Sometimes it feels like I’m going crazy. No one understands me! I don’t understand me!”
Preadolescent Brain Development: A Second Wave of Neuronal Sprouting in the Brain
Well, as it turns out, there is a LOT going on with your brain right now. Depending on how old you are, you’re either going through, or have just gone through, this second big burst of neuronal sprouting that happens right before the teen years. For girls this tends to peak at 11 and for boys it tends to peak at 12. The first time you had such a burst of neuronal sprouting began when you were a developing fetus in your mother’s womb and it lasted until you were about 3 years old.
You and your brain will never experience anything quite like this again, even though, our brains are capable of changing at any age, thanks to neuroplasticity.
Adolescent Brain Development: Growing More Grey Matter and Neuronal Myelination
This major brain restructuring event of adolescence leads to the development of new grey matter, which contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies and serves to help it process information. These nerve cells are also developing myelin, an insulating fatty sheath that helps these cells to communicate more effectively. Your brain is on its way to becoming an even more amazing thing than it already is, but it doesn’t happen overnight. This restructuring lasts until you’re about 25.
Life Experiences Affect Adolescent Brain Development
And similarly to how your brain developed from the experiences you had in early childhood, the experiences you have, and are having now, as a teenager influences how your brain develops during this time. Because of this, adolescence plays an important role in your overall development of becoming an adult and your own independent being who’s capable of making wise and thoughtful decisions for yourself.
Brain Structures That Are Developing as Part of Adolescent Brain Development
During adolescence, you’re learning new, higher level thinking skills, such as critical thinking and reasoning. The prefrontal cortex is largely responsible for this, but the parietal lobe also plays a part.
Prefrontal Cortex and Parietal Lobe
The prefrontal cortex is involved with your ability to prioritize, plan and control your impulses. The parietal lobe helps with processing information by helping you to identify objects and things. As well, it helps you to understand where your body is in relation to the things around you. But these parts aren’t quite fully developed yet and won’t be until your mid-20s.
That’s not to say, though, that you aren’t capable now of taking in complex information and making wise decisions, you just might need to have time to process the information. As well as simply having access to the information.
You might also need time to make sense of your emotions because what IS in charge during adolescence is your limbic system, which is involved with emotions and the formation of memories, behaviors and motivation. Because of this, the limbic system serves, and has served, as an important component in our ability to survive as a species.
How Adolescent Brain Development Affects Your Feelings and Actions
However, as a teenager, this means that you might find yourself approaching situations more from your emotions, impulses and desires rather than from your wise, rational mind. Your emotions might feel more intense or overwhelming and you might not even be able to explain to others what you were thinking when you did something because your feelings were so strong that you weren’t aware of your thoughts. It’s also possible that you’re feeling more self-conscious and that you might be more likely to respond to things personally or to perceive them as personal attacks. And it’s important to remember, that this is likely true for your friends, too.
A More Balanced Relationship Between the Prefrontal Cortex and Limbic System
However, as you get older and continue to develop, the prefrontal cortex starts to gain greater control of the limbic system. As a result, you should find it easier to make well-thought out plans and controlling your impulses so that you can accomplish tasks and goals. Likewise, you should be able to find some greater balance with your emotions and be able to more accurately interpret the emotions of others.
So what can you do to help cultivate the connections that are and that need to occur between your prefrontal cortex and your limbic system? After all, our emotions play a vital role in our survival. We need our emotions, but we don’t need to be controlled by them because they may not always lead us to the best results.
Suggestions for Supporting Healthy Adolescent Brain Development
Well, now is a good time for you to develop good habits around things like thinking positively, eating and exercise. Our bodies and minds are complex and they’re connected. When you take care of your body, you take care of your mind, and vice versa when you take care of your mind, you take care of your body.
One thing you might consider doing are making music. When we make music, we’re engaging our bodies as well as those parts of our brains responsible for focusing and paying attention. At the same time, making music can provide us with ways to express our emotions. Not to mention, making music can be motivating and feels good.
What are some things you do to take care of your mind and body? Share them in the comments below.
Resources on Adolescent Brain Development:
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: “Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making”
Kids Health: “Adolescent Brain Development”
John Hopkins Medicine: “Anatomy of the Brain”
Robin Nixon and Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience, March 31, 2016: “10 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Teen’s Brain”
Robin Nixon, LiveScience, July 9, 2012: “Adolescent Angst: 5 Facts About the Teen Brain”
Stanford Children’s Health, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital: “Understanding the Teen Brain”