Why Would My Teen Do That?

The October, 2011 issue of National Geographic holds one of the best articles on teen brains to date.

For a long time hormones were thought to be the villains responsible for that seemingly irrational behavior of most teens.  But recent advances in neuroimaging have uncovered news about the teen brain: it is still maturing.

In fact, during the adolescent years the brain undergoes a major reorganization between the ages of 12 and 25.  Prior to that time, researchers conclude that only 80% of the adolescent brain is developed, with the frontal lobe, the section of the brain responsible for judgment, planning, and reasoning, not becoming fully functional until the age of 25.

The author, of “Teenage Brain”, David Dobbs shares:

“”For starters, the brain’s axons—the long nerve fibers that neurons use to send signals to other neurons—become gradually more insulated with a fatty substance called myelin (the brain’s white matter), eventually boosting the axons’ transmission speed up to a hundred times. Meanwhile, dendrites, the branchlike extensions that neurons use to receive signals from nearby axons, grow twiggier, and the most heavily used synapses—the little chemical junctures across which axons and dendrites pass notes—grow richer and stronger. At the same time, synapses that see little use begin to wither. This synaptic pruning, as it is called, causes the brain’s cortex—the outer layer of gray matter where we do much of our conscious and complicated thinking—to become thinner but more efficient. Taken together, these changes make the entire brain a much faster and more sophisticated organ.

This article is worth a read for parents who are struggling to understand the awkwardness and the mood swings they witness in their teens. It certainly gives a new found appreciation and heightened compassion for those growing through this stage.  The good news is the neural networks, responsible for a teen’s learning potential seem to peak during adolescence which shows they have keen minds, just not the seasoning and wisdom to use their potential to rule their natural tendency to seek novelty and risk taking.

This article  sheds light on some of those foolish and sometimes on-the-brink-of-down-right-scary behaviors that seem to erupt from nowhere.