Brain Talk - Part 2

Erroll Lewis  |  3/21/2014 8:16:04 PM


Have your ever heard someone comment on a youth he or she knew and utter these words:
His family gave him love and nurturing, but it appears that was not enough.  

He robbed and killed someone for no apparent reason.

She came from a loving and beautiful family and her parents gave her the best of everything, so why did she choose a life of substance abuse at such an early age?

While infant and toddler brains develop very quickly, the adolescent brain experiences rapid change somewhat the same however the pruning is done swiftly while stronger experiences endure. Many changes are occurring and more “outside” or away from home (family) experiences are more influential. Like the research being done with infant brains, the MRI is also used to better understand the adolescent’s brain.

Researchers, scientists and physicians all agree that the part of the brain called the frontal or prefrontal cortex is where complex and complicated decisions are made. Critical judgments and decisions are not yet matured. Research states that the brain of the adolescent develops somewhat differently from the child. The adolescent brain develops myelin, which insulates the nerve fibers and speeds neural processing occurring in the frontal lobes. Neurotransmitters send electrical messages of “feelings” throughout the body. Dopamine sends messages of “good feelings” and eventually these feelings reach what is called “tolerance." Another area in the brain that is responsible for the emotional status of teens is called the limbic. Many changes are taking place, but the parts of the brain which develop first involve physical coordination, emotions, and motivational regions. Researchers believe this may be the reason or possible cause for some teens having difficulty or possessing the inability to control their emotions and reactions. And yet other researchers state this may explain the dramatic or overactive behavior in many boys and even some girls. It is believed that this part of the brain does not mature until around the age of 25.

Changes with Adolescents

  • Teens sleep longer
  • Rapid growth spurt in height and weight
  • Boys tend to be more narcissistic and physically active
  • Girls are more sensitive about appearance and weight
  • Beginning of puberty, hormones (boys' voices change)
  • Increase in production of oily skin (acne)

Supporting your Adolescents

  • Don’t criticize
  • Encourage healthier eating
  • Encourage physical activity
  • Be honest with responses
  • Give them freedom (time and space)
  • The development of hygiene and grooming habits requires patience


Virginia Cooperative Extension
National Institute of Mental Health

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