Parents and teachers can get frustrated by behaviors that seem to be characteristic of the teen years—behaviors such as using bad judgment, having trouble foreseeing consequences, and acting impulsively. These “juvenile” behaviors in teens are the result of an immature adolescent prefrontal cortex. This time in a child’s development requires much patience from parents and teachers, but teens’ frontal lobe functions will improve. Patterns of behavior mature as the adolescent brain matures.
Another important point to remember while trying to understand teen behavior involves stress. The adolescent brain does not handle stress well. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol “hangs out” in the adolescent brain much longer than it does in an adult brain. Lingering cortisol in the teen brain results in sustained exposure to the harmful effects of this stress hormone. When the brain is bathed in cortisol, a shrinkage of cells in the hippocampus and amygdala occurs. The result is memory loss, depression, anxiety, and other overwhelming emotions.
The prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala are three of the brain’s areas that experience major changes during adolescence. Given time, a well-organized, fully developed and functioning brain will allow for youthful idealism and practical realities to work together.
More to consider: Encourage an active role . . .
Teach your teen about the brain’s structure and function. Help your child take an active role in training his or her own brain. An adolescent can choose to nudge the brain’s development based on activities chosen. Concentrating on music, math, or a board game works the brain very differently than mindlessly watching TV does.