The teen brain. How many of us have found ourselves absolutely baffled by our teen’s behavior and in frustration, lashed out yelling, “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do that!,” after another of their “stupid stunts?” How any of us recall our own “stupid stunts” and being asked the same questions, with no better answer than, “I don’t know!”
Well today’s new research on brain development is helping to explain this phenomenon — They’re not thinking!
And therein lies the problem – teens are not being obstinate – it’s just they’re incapable of thinking like an adult might because the adult-like thinking areas of their brains are not fully wired, yet.
Thanks to new brain imaging technologies of the past 10, 15, 20 years, such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), DTI (diffusion tensor imaging), PET (positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), scientists and medical professionals now know that the brain does not fully develop until a person’s early 20s.
One area – the cerebral cortex – is still under development into early adulthood (and typically does not start this developmental process until mid-teens). This area involves neural network wiring that makes a person capable of cause-and-effect types of judgment,
reasoning, logic, planning – the more complex thinking skills. [Yes, young people have been doing some version of this for some time, but think of trying to do a tax return or go to law school at age 13 vs age 22.]
The cerebral cortex is also developing the “stop” or “hit the brakes” messages on the “go, seek, take the risk, run with your peers” messages so active in the Limbic System starting around age 12.
Additionally, adolescents do not have the luxury of hindsight. They simply have not lived long enough nor made enough mistakes (or good decisions, for that matter – the ones without mom or dad’s “help”) in order to observe the outcomes – the cause and the effect of their decisions.
For these reasons, decision-making can be especially problematic for those under age 21 – including the decision to drink or use drugs. Understanding the teen brain can help parents, teachers and administrators better understand what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to helping teens make better decisions while their brains are “under construction.”
Check out these links for further information:
- 10 minute video, “It’s Time We Start Telling The Whole Truth About Puberty”
- The Addiction Projects’ explanation of the impact of alcohol or drug use on the teen brain, “Five Things to Know About Adolescent’s Brain Development and Use”
- The Partnership at DrugFree.org’s “Adolescent Brain and Behavior”