Get to know the mysterious teenage brain
Adolescence is the stage of development in which the transition to adult life takes place and is characterized by an accelerated growth rate.
During this time, there are a series of neurological, cognitive and socio-emotional changes, in addition to physical and sexual maturation.
All these experiences include the transition to social and economic independence, the development of identity, an increase in self-centeredness, the acquisition of the skills necessary to establish relationships in groups and the practice of roles.
This stage scares many families, however, it should not be seen as a problematic moment, but as a period of adaptation to social life as adults, and represents a wonderful opportunity for the development of the personality and evolution of human beings.
The adolescent is a very sensitive and highly adaptable being, who prepares to leave home security and integrate into the outside world, and this is a slow and constant training, in which he sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not. Human beings learn by the method of trial and error.
When, as adults, we observe the behavior of a teenager, we often fail to understand why they behave like that. This happens because we look for the causes only in the social and cultural environment, ignoring the changes that the brain experiences with the irruption of puberty and hormonal influences.
Knowing how a teenager’s brain works are very useful for understanding their behavior changes, their attraction to risk, their lack of reflection in decision-making and their impulsivity.
These modifications are determined, in addition to hormonal changes, also by those that occur at the brain and synaptic level.
The Intrinsecacies of a teen’s brain
We can say that their brain is under construction. This experiences a maturation process that transforms the neural network, between 12 and 24 years, changing in a decisive and complex way.
On the one hand, myelination increases, covering around the neural connections that allow greater synchronization and increases the speed of communication between neurons favoring the flow of information.
The most used synapses are strengthened and improved while the less used synapses are eliminated. The corpus callosum thickens, favoring a greater connection between the cerebral hemispheres as well as a strengthening of communication between different areas of the brain.
Teenagers use the executive regions located in the frontal lobe less efficiently. The development of the cerebral cortex during adolescence begins in the back of the brain known as occipital and parietal lobes and ends during late adolescence with the development of the frontal lobe.
Within this lobe is the prefrontal cortex, which houses the most relevant brain areas involved in executive functions as well as being responsible for impulse control.
This all means that the adolescent behaves awkwardly in the control of emotions, experiences a higher level of impulsivity, difficulty in the choice of objectives and the adaptation to social norms.
That is why fathers and mothers must become a kind of external prefrontal brain, marking the limits clearly, but activating what is typical of this evolutionary stage: being incredibly creative, supportive and altruistic.
In addition, during adolescence, the limbic or emotional regions are close to maturity, while the prefrontal regions are still developing in a linear fashion, up to about 24 years.
The search for risk and strong emotions
The assumption of risks is the product of a competition between both networks, the socio-emotional and cognitive control, competing between what they want to do because it produces immediate satisfaction and what they must do, even if it implies a delay of gratification.
However, it has been found that the lack of maturity can be overcome with relevant rewards, which push to have a higher performance of executive intelligence.
It is here that both parents and teachers can play a relevant role if they provide adequate educational support.
Given these factors, risk experiences such as the search for sensations, strong emotions and novelties are not dysfunctional behaviors, much less pathological, but quite the opposite.
They can be positive behaviors that extend their social circle and can contribute to their success, while also testing their affective and cognitive skills.
These changes during adolescence help the adolescent brain to be more integrated and to create greater coordination in it.
The brain is in a kind of remodeling process that favors opportunity, but also vulnerability. That is why it is during this period of life when the onset of most mental health disorders occurs.
There are some important keys that we must keep in mind to better educate a teenager and help his brain develop harmoniously:
Know that sleep and stress condition their brain development:
Sleep is a determining factor in brain neuroplasticity, since it maintains certain synapses, eliminates others and reinforces cognitive processes. Sleeping also helps stimulate learning and fix memories, something very useful during exam time.
Although it may seem that teenagers are lazy, science shows that levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in the blood rise naturally later in the evening and fall later in the morning compared to most children and the adults.
This may explain why many teenagers stay up late and have a hard time getting up in the morning. They should sleep about nine to 10 hours a night, but most of them do not get enough sleep and this is complicated by technological insomnia, since the blue light emitted by mobile devices, causes melatonin secretion to be further delayed.
Lack of sleep makes it difficult for them to pay attention, increases impulsivity and can also increase irritability and depression.
Value their talents:
It is important to properly assess their particular intelligences and offer them possibilities to develop them. If they are not valued, they will not develop, and if you do not work with them, they disappear.
They must know that they can change the world through their talents, and for this they must train them. But they must also learn to make decisions not only because it makes life easier, but because it provides a lot of peace of mind in the short, medium and long term.
When the cerebral cortex has not completed its development, making rational decisions is much more difficult. The lower cortical thickness in specific brain networks that are important for decision making is associated with impulsive choice.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with cognition, the search for reward and with certain psychological disorders.
During adolescence, there is a strong release of dopamine. This means that their decisions are based, to a large extent, on the basis of psychological processes of reward, as we have said before.
Have and develop self-control:
This emotional ability prevents violent behavior, improves attention, improves coexistence, emotional well-being, and health, physical and mental. For this, it is necessary to help them connect the emotional part of the brain with the rational part, and in this, the emotional education of teenagers becomes an essential tool.