The Teenage Brain

Posted on October 8th, 2016


If you are a parent of a teenager, you have likely been through various emotions as you observe your teenager’s behaviors. You have probably been amazed by your teen’s zest for life or his/her natural creativity, watching your teen becoming more independent before your very eyes. You have also probably been terrified at times. Maybe your teenager thought it was a brilliant idea to sneak out of the house at midnight on a school night to go to a party, or maybe he/she felt jumping off a friend’s roof into a swimming pool was the most appealing activity for a Friday night.

As a parent, you may be wondering what kinds of connections your teenager’s brain is making to get from one decision to the next. Why are clearly bad ideas to the adult brain not processed in the same way? And while you want to leave room for your teen to learn from his/her mistakes, grow, and individuate, you also want to protect your teen from danger.

We know the region of the brain known as the amygdala develops early on and is responsible for fear and aggressive behaviors. However, the frontal cortex, responsible for reasoning and impulse control, takes longer to develop. The brain continues to mature well into adolescence and early adulthood, with areas of the cortex responsible for controlling impulses and planning ahead being among the last to mature. While the adolescent brain is primed at its peak to absorb and learn new information, emotional reactivity and impulsivity are also much higher in adolescence. This is why your teen may be more inclined to get into accidents or initiate risky behaviors, and is less inclined to consider potential consequences of his or her actions or think before acting.

As a parent, there are measures you can take to promote healthy physical and emotional health. In addition to creating a nurturing and loving environment, certain lifestyle choices can minimize stress responses to support healthy development. Setting appropriate limits around behaviors, encouraging strong social connections, and helping guide your teen to make positive self-care decisions can have far-reaching effects. Encouraging physical exercise, mindfulness, and creative outlets for self-expression can have a significantly beneficial impact on your teen’s development. Additionally, adolescence brings changes in the brain that affect a teenager’s tendency to stay up late at night. As research shows that sleep deprivation leads to increases in impulsive behavior, sufficient sleep is critical to your teen’s physical and emotional health.

Knowing how the adolescent brain operates can help parents set appropriate boundaries to support their teenagers through this dynamic and exciting stage of their lives. Let us provide the structure and limits to keep our teens safe but also let us not forget the beautiful aspects of the adolescent brain. This very ability to learn and seek novel experiences allows teens to be able to make the critical transition from dependence to independence. Adolescence is a transformative time when personalities evolve and great learning and growth occurs. If we understand the teenage brain and provide the appropriate support and environment accordingly, the teenage years can be a beautiful period of time for parents and teens alike.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.