I've been curious lately about the teen brain.
My 13-year-old has been out of school for a week because of a concussion. This unfortunate accident is simply his consequence from his choice — a decision made from his immature pre-frontal cortex. I don’t know how a mother stays sane after her child gets a driver's license.
The extent of my research on this topic is that I have read many articles and I have talked to a few teachers and tutors who work with us. I am not, in any way, an authority in this field. I am not a physician, I have never worked in the medical field and I hardly got through anatomy class many years ago. I am just a curious, worried mother and a business owner who works with children on a daily basis.
By about 12 years old, a child's brain is as large as it will ever be, but its development is far from complete. From early adolescence until the mid-20s, the connections between brain cells responsible for the cognitive functions of “growing up” are still forming and uniting.
The pre-frontal cortex is the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain. This is the part of the brain that makes decisions, or the “executive function.” Executive function relates to the ability to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good vs. bad, evaluate consequences of an action, work toward a defined goal and social control. It’s the buffer between, “Is this a good idea or not?”
This part of the brain does not fully develop until the age of young 20s. Until then, teenagers access their prefrontal cortex more slowly than adults. The nerve cells that connect the frontal lobes don’t have as much of a fatty coating called myelin, or “white matter.” Nerves need myelin for nerve signals to flow. This lack of myelin leads to inefficient and inconsistent communication between one part of the brain to the other.
Their brains are simply not fully connected. This can also explain why teenagers are often self-centered, moody, are poor in follow through and weak in executing a plan. Their brains are simply not finished growing.
To add more alarm, the teenage brain is more responsive, excitable and impressionable with everything. A teenage brain, when doing something pleasurable, will make higher levels of the hormone dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, than an adult brain would make. This can be good for learning anything new, but this can also make them more vulnerable to addictions.
There is so much more to this topic. I have hardly scratched the surface. I am open to any educated input or source that you are willing to share. Until then, bear in mind that as grown up as your teenager may appear, his or her brain is not grown up.
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— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.