Parents, Teachers, Physicians and adults have long held preconceived notions about why teenagers act so reckless, irresponsible and emotional at times, and many of these explanations have been debunked by latest research from people like Frances Jensen, Cathy Price and many others.
It was once believed that teenagers were impulsive due to raging hormones and that they were difficult because they hated authority. However, new researches in brain imaging, which gathered force in the 2000s, revealed a different story. Studies have shown that teenagers brain’s structure is different from adult brain’s structure. Teens brain is still in the developmental stage till they are in their mid 20’s compared to adult brain’s structure which is fully developed.
Advanced brain imaging has revealed that the teenage brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt and respond to its environment. The brain does not grow by getting substantially larger during the teenage years but rather through increased connectivity between brain regions. This growth in connectivity presents itself as white matter in the brain, which comes from a fatty substance called myelin. As the brain develops, myelin wraps itself around nerve cells’ axons—long, thin tendrils that extend from the cell and transmit information—like insulation on an electrical wire.
Myelination, the scientific name for this process, strengthens and accelerates the communication between brain regions and underlies a person’s basic learning abilities.The myelination process starts from the back of the brain and works its way to the front. That means the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in decision-making, planning and self-control, is the last part to mature. It’s not that teens don’t have frontal- lobe capabilities but rather that their signals are not getting to the back of the brain fast enough to regulate their emotions. It’s why risk-taking and impulsive behavior are more common among teens and young adults. This is why peer pressure rules at this time of life. They don’t have the fully developed capacity to think ahead at this time.
Although the development of the prefrontal cortex is the last step on the development checklist, teenagers undergo major changes in their limbic system—the area of the brain that controls emotions—at the onset of puberty, which is typically around the ages of 10 to 12. Physicians now believe that this mismatch in development of the impulse-control part of the brain and the hormone- and emotion-fueled part of the brain is what causes the risk-taking behaviors that are so common among teenagers. The prefrontal cortex communicates with the brain’s emotional centers through intricate connections. In adults, these connections have been strengthening with experience and maturation, but during adolescence, the connections are not fully developed, so it’s more difficult for a teenager to shut off these emotional systems.
The teen brain’s rapidly growing connections carry some negative side effects. About 70% of mental illnesses, including anxiety, mood and eating disorders, and psychosis, appear in the teen years and early adulthood. The timing makes sense, since the prefrontal cortex and frontal lobes are implicated in the emergence of diseases like depression and schizophrenia. Risks for health issues like addiction are also higher during this time period.
Teens can learn things harder, stronger, faster, and they can get addicted harder, stronger, faster. A 2016 study reported that the risk of addiction to opioids increased nearly 40% among young people ages 18 to 25 from 2002 to 2014.
What’s become increasingly clear is that the dramatic changes in brain biology mean the teenage years are full of opportunity and vulnerability.
Teaching young people about the complexities of their brains can go a long way. There may be no way to prevent the uncertainty that comes from being a teenager, but there are ways to take advantage of those critical years.
We will be helping teenagers and young adults understand what shapes their emotions in order for them to make informed decisions, improve emotional intelligence and enhance academics performance during the 2-day masterclass with the theme, “Improving Emotional Intelligence for Optimum Performance for Teenagers.”
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