The Rapidly Changing Teenage Brain

The teenage brain is a rapidly changing organ. Last night I watched several segments of a PBS documentary on the teenage brain and how the biological changes affect behavior. Inside the Teenage Brain discussed how right before puberty there is a thickening in the gray matter of the frontal cortex resulting from an “overproduction of cells,” allowing for synaptogenesis.  The prefrontal cortex is involved in behaviors such as planning, social behavior, and decision-making. In addition, during adolescence the brain undergoes cell death and pruning similar to what happens in toddlers’ brains, determining important neuronal connections. If we look at this in a cause and effect manner, does this mean that many cells are produced and connections made only to be pruned away if they are not used during those pivotal teenage years?  As Seung would say, use it or lose it!

Assuming this is the case, what does this mean for how we should raise and teach kids during adolescence? Should we focus more on teaching kids organizational and planning skills, how to make good decisions, and appropriate social conduct during this period? Furthermore, how do drugs affect this process in the teen brain? Do social roles adopted during the teenage years remain into adulthood? How do we find a balance between academics and social interactions for teens to allow them to develop into successful thinkers and communicators? It is clear that adolescence is an incredibly important period of change and development for the body and the brain.  This makes it and even greater challenge for parents to find a healthy balance between providing guidance and independence for their teens.


To watch the documentary:

One thought on “The Rapidly Changing Teenage Brain

  1. I find it interesting that lots of individuals mention that their junior high or high school years were the most upsetting, depressing, or generally worst years of their lives. Even in college, my friends reflect on their prepubescent and teenage years as a rather traumatic emotional blur. Although, there will always be those individuals, who are more extreme, I think it might benefit young adults and pre-teens to know that there is a biological basis for the emotional and social drama they go through. They may not always be able to control it, but it might make them feel a little less angsty or alone.


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