Inside the Teenage Brain

If I could turn back time and re-live certain years of my life, I wouldn’t choose my teenage years. Asking my parents’ permission for everything, trying to fit in with my peers, and going through various awkward stages? Yeah, I think once was enough.

According to a recent LiveScience article, adolescence is one of the times when the most growth happens in the brain. Not only is puberty taking place, which is already an awkward stage, but the brain also plays a role in the random tantrums, indecisiveness, and uncertainty that sometimes takes place at this point in a teen’s life.

Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is helping to better understand the teenage brain. Johnson reviewed the neuroscience in the 2009 book The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development. Here are five things she has learned:

  1. Teenage decision making can be influenced more by emotions than by rationale. Sheryl Feinstein, author of Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress, said this is because teen brains rely more on the limbic system than the prefrontal cortex.
  2. Puberty is a big factor during this time because the part of the brain that regulates several aspects of the body, including memories and emotions, is still developing. This can lead to impulsive behavior.
  3. Friends are important at this age. Teenagers take cues from their peers.
  4. Some teens engage in risky behavior, but as their teenage years come to an end their brains respond to impulse control and help them make better decisions.
  5. Hormonal changes can cause teens to be self-centered. As Johnson says, “It is the first time they are seeing themselves in the world.”

I remember how much of an influence my peers had on me in my teenage years, and when I think back, some of my behavior was definitely questionable. It’s a difficult period for many reasons, and I’m glad it’s behind me.

–Blayne Jeffries

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