So what is up with the teenage brain anyway, and how do we survive this period of time in our kids’/students’ lives? In The Teenage Brain, Dr. Frances Jensen explains that a teenager’s brain is like a souped up sports car with no brakes.
The last organ in the body to mature is the brain, and that doesn’t happen until the mid- to late-20s. The teenage brain also has more “synaptic plasticity”, meaning it has a great ability to learn, but addictions can happen more strongly and quickly than in an adult’s brain. The teenage brain can’t “put on the brakes” as easily because it doesn’t have the ability to regulate itself as well. While the brain is maturing and making connections, risk-taking behavior can be high. Male brains tend to take longer to make these connections, which probably comes as no big surprise to any of us.
Sleep is also a key part in teen brain health. If a teen is sleep deprived, his learning will be negatively impacted. Our current school day schedule is not conducive to teenage brain health.
Stress also plays a big part in the developing teen brain. Teens tend to be more anxious due to a hormone that is released in response to stress. In adults this release calms anxiety, but in teens, it ramps it up!
So how can we survive the teenage brain? We need to be very mindful of any kind of addictions in our teens, from alcohol and drugs to video game usage. (Cocaine and gaming turn on the same areas of the brain.) Educating our kids about their brain health and what is happening is an important step we need to take, and we need to encourage downtime for them to reduce stress as much as possible.
If you’re the parent or teacher of teens, you may want to pick up this book for a more thorough read. Good luck out there!