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Keeping you Informed

Powerful and Vulnerable

Hello All,

During the teenage years, our brains are both more powerful and more vulnerable than at any other time of our lives. This is due to the amount of synapses (connections between the cells) a teenager has. Theoretically, teenagers are able to learn at a much more efficient rate than adults. This creates a tremendous opportunity where teenagers can increase their cognitive powers while working on their weaknesses.

Though this is a tremendous advantage, we've also learned that different regions of the teenage brain haven't built strong connections with one another yet (the technical term for these connections are axons). A study by the National Institute of Health found that the brain builds this connectivity as we get older and that the last region of the brain to build strong connectivity with other regions is the frontal lobe.

Why is this important to note? The frontal lobe is where the brain houses the functions of judgment, empathy, insight, and impulse control. This is not to say that teenagers can't use their frontal lobe. They utilize it often when interacting with friends or taking a test. The real issue comes when a teenager has to use their frontal lobe to make split-second decisions, like whether they should click on a questionable video link or whether they should do a dangerous or illegal act because "friends" are pressuring them to do so.

Actions like these often make parents and teachers alike ask, "What were they thinking?" According to neuroscience, part of the reason for these actions is because the connections between certain areas of the brain are still developing. Though this does not excuse a frustrating behavior, understanding the mechanisms behind it allows us to potentially view these issues with more patience and perspective. A child may not be trying to be improper, but their decision-making capacity hasn't quite caught up yet. Add on top of this the fact that teenagers also have difficulty regulating their feelings, emotions are oft times going to drive frustrating behavior as well. Again, knowing this does not excuse the behavior, but it may help to explain it more thoroughly.

It is important that we share this data with teens. More than ever before, this generation of teenagers has a close relationship and understanding of data and information. As adolescence is a time for figuring out who you are and and who you're going to be, teens are very interested in understanding why they do the things they do. It may come as a relief to know that there's some biology behind their behaviors.

There are many things about the brain that we are still learning. For example, it was recently discovered that IQ -- once thought to be a fixed constant -- can change during your teen years. Learning more about it helps us understand some of the behaviors we see in teenagers...and ultimately allows us to help them realize that there are opportunities to continue to change in positive ways.

More information regarding teenage brain development can be found in the embedded video.

As always, thank you for your continued dedication to our children.

Insight Into the Teenage Brain: Adriana Galván at TEDxYouth@Caltech