The Psychology of the Adolescent Brain | By Santino

Adolescence is a period beginning between the start of puberty and the beginning of adulthood. It is a period that may last for about ten years or less. For instance, it may start at around 12 or 13 years and last all through to 17 or 18, even 20 years. Even though most cognitive changes take place during childhood, the teenage brain continues to grow and develop throughout the entire teenage period.

The brain continues to make novel forms of neural connections. They also cast-off connections and neurons that are considered unused during this period, as noted by Blackmore. Goldberg (2001) also not that the continued maturity of adolescents at this time comes with the development of the prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain charged with the task of not only reasoning and planning but also decision making and problem-solving. Myelin also develops. Myelin is a fatty tissue formed around the neurons and axons which is responsible for speedy transmissions involving different parts of the brain. 

According to Casey et al. (2008), some of the changes in the brain take place even before puberty, while some continue long after puberty. Hormonal changes, experience, and age influence changes in the brain. However, the mind of adolescents develops almost the same time, but there are differences according to individuals. The unused connections the processing and thinking of an adolescent, which are called grey matter, are pruned away during adolescence. Similarly, there is the strengthening of other connections. This aspect is one of the ways used by the brain to become more efficient using the principle of “using it or losing it”. At the back of the brain, the process of pruning begins while the last function of remodeling takes place at the front part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, as mentioned before. Adolescents may depend on the brain part referred to as the amygdala more than adults since the prefrontal cortex is still developing in as far as problem-solving and decision making are concerned. This part is associated with instinctive behavior, aggression, impulses, and emotions.

There are always not thoughtful but mostly impulsive. The reason behind this reality maybe because the prefrontal cortex development is slower as compared to the development of the brain’s emotional parts, for example, the limbic system (Blakemore, 2008). Additionally, the hormonal surge that has a strong connection with the teenage period may lead to the creation of strong emotions hence impulsive behavior. Emotional responses are fundamentally driven by the hormonal surge. There is a general hypothesis that adolescents may take part in risky behaviors, for example, unprotected sex, dangerous driving, drug use, and smoking partly because their mental ability to curb impulsive behavior or making rational decisions is not fully developed (Steinberg, 2007).

The emerging cognitive abilities acquired by adolescents may result in the emergence of new egocentric feelings. As a consequence, the adolescent may start believing that they have the capacity of doing anything and also that they know better of the most things as compared to other people including their parents (Casey et al., 2018). During this period, adolescents are likely to be highly self-conscious. They tend to create an imaginary world full of an imaginary audience where they develop a feeling that they are constantly being watched by everyone. Adolescents think so much about themselves and they end up, by mistake, that other people are always thinking about them. Therefore, it is not by surprise that adolescents feel embarrassed about whatever their parents do in public.

Parents and other adults can play a significant role in helping teens navigate through this challenging period. It is important to note that the way that adolescents spend their time during adolescence is essential for the development of their brains. Therefore, parents and other adults must monitor and control the types of music teens are listening to and watching, their sports, studies, video games, and the language they are using (Modecki et al., 2017). The parents’ guidance and influence play a significant role in helping teens navigate through this challenging period successfully. For instance, parents should encourage their children to develop positive behavior, promote good decision-making and thinking skills, and also help the child get enough sleep.

The parents may encourage good behavior by letting the adolescent take some healthy risks as compared to letting him take unhealthy risks; help the child gets new expressive and creative outlets for his feelings to control new emotions; talk through the decisions by the child step by step regarding possible effects (both positive and negative); use family routines which ensures that there is a set structure of life which a child can follow; provide boundaries as well as opportunities for negotiating the same boundaries; offer positive rewards and frequent praise for a positive and desired behavior; be a positive role model to the child in terms of activities and behavior; and always staying connected with the adolescent to make sure that the company of friends he has and activities he engage in are not harmful (Vaala & Bleakley, 2015).

– Brotherhood of Sincerity

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