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What is it about the Teenage Brain?

March 1, 2010

Do you find that your teenager seems like he is from another planet? Do you wonder what happened to your innocent, conscientious, obedient child? There might actually be a physiological explanation for the change that has taken place: your child’s brain development is at an important (and difficult) developmental crossroad.

NPR recently looked into this issue in the Morning Edition story,The Teen Brain: It is Just Not Grown Up Yet:

[S]cientists used to think human brain development was pretty complete by age 10. Or as [Frances Jansen, a pediatric neurologist,] puts it, that ‘a teenage brain is just an adult brain with fewer miles on it.’ But it’s not. To begin with, she says, a crucial part of the brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected. Really.

This lack of connection (and the fact that a child’s brain is generally excitable) has implications for decision making — from driving to dating to drug/alcohol use. For example, according to the report, the effects of smoking pot have been shown to last longer in teenagers than adults. In fact, addiction may be much more of a problem when children experiment with drugs/alcohol during this time when the brain is hard-wired for learning.

Of course, it isn’t all bad. Understanding brain development can help teenagers lock in what they have learned. The report indicates that one way to move short term memory knowledge to long term retention is to sleep — thus, enabling the brain to consolidate the information. Think of all the learning that is going on when you find your teenager asleep in his book.

Looking for a scientific way to talk to your child about avoiding all-nighters and substance experimentation? Check out the rest of the report on The Teen Brain and supporting studies.

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