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  • Jayne Green (B.Ed;M.Ed)

Understanding your Teenagers Brain: This Article can Help Parents Better Understand and Manage Teens

Teenage Brain Development: The Basics

The journey of brain development begins from the moment a child is born, and it undergoes a massive growth spurt during their early years. By the age of six, a child's brain is already about 90-95% of its adult size.

However, this is just the beginning. The brain continues to remodel and rewire itself to function as an adult brain, a process that intensifies during adolescence and persists into a person's mid-20s. This transformation is influenced by age, experiences, and hormonal changes associated with puberty.

Inside the Teenage Brain Adolescence is a pivotal phase for the growth and development of the teenage brain. During this period, the brain undergoes significant changes, with one of the key processes being the pruning of unused connections in the thinking and processing part of the brain, known as the grey matter. Simultaneously, other connections are strengthened. This pruning and strengthening of neural connections make the brain more efficient, following the principle of 'use it or lose it.'

The process of pruning typically begins in the back of the brain and moves forward. The last area to undergo remodeling is the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making center of the brain responsible for planning, considering consequences, problem-solving, and impulse control. Changes in the prefrontal cortex continue into early adulthood.

Interestingly, due to the ongoing development of the prefrontal cortex, teenagers may rely more on the amygdala, a region associated with emotions, impulses, aggression, and instinctive behavior, for decision-making compared to adults. This can explain why teenagers may exhibit mature thinking and behavior at times, but also behave in illogical, impulsive, or emotionally charged ways.

Building a Healthy Teenage Brain The development of a teenager's brain is a dynamic interplay between their unique brain and their environment. The activities, experiences, and interests that teenagers engage in can significantly shape their brain development.

How teenagers spend their time matters because it influences their brain's structure and function. Activities such as music, sports, academic pursuits, language learning, and even video games all have the potential to mold the kind of brain a teenager carries into adulthood.

Parents play a crucial role in their child's environment, meaning their guidance and influence are essential in helping teenagers build healthy brains. You can contribute to this by encouraging positive behavior, promoting good thinking skills, and ensuring your child gets enough sleep.

Behavior Strategies for Teenage Brain Development Teenagers, during the period of brain development, may engage in high-risk activities, exhibit stronger emotions, and make impulsive decisions. Here are some strategies to encourage positive behavior and strengthen positive brain connections:

  1. Healthy Risk-Taking: Allowing your child to explore new and different experiences helps them develop an independent identity, explore grown-up behavior, and move toward independence.

  2. Creative and Expressive Outlets: Encourage your child to find creative and expressive outlets for their feelings, such as sports, music, writing, or other art forms.

  3. Decision-Making Discussions: Talk through decisions step by step with your child, discussing potential courses of action and their consequences.

  4. Family Routines: Establish routines based on school and family schedules to provide structure in your child's life.

  5. Boundaries and Negotiation: Set boundaries for your child and provide opportunities for negotiating those boundaries.

  6. Positive Reinforcement: Offer frequent praise and positive rewards for desired behavior to reinforce pathways in your child's brain.

  7. Be a Role Model: Demonstrate the behavior you expect from your child through your own actions.

  8. Stay Connected: Maintain an open and approachable line of communication with your child to keep an eye on their activities and friends.

  9. Discuss Brain Development: Help your child understand their developing brain, which can aid in processing their feelings and encourage them to take care of their brain.

Thinking Strategies for Teenage Brain Development Brain growth and development during the teenage years lead to enhanced logical thinking, abstract reasoning, improved understanding of emotions, complex problem-solving skills, and a better perspective on the future. Here are strategies to support your child's thinking development:

  1. Encourage Empathy: Discuss feelings, perspectives, and circumstances, highlighting the diversity of people's experiences.

  2. Discuss Consequences: Emphasize the immediate and long-term consequences of actions, aiding the healthy development of your child's prefrontal cortex.

  3. Match Language Level: Ensure your language aligns with your child's understanding, and confirm their comprehension by having them explain information in their own words.

  4. Problem-Solving Skills: Work with your child on defining problems, listing options, and considering outcomes that satisfy everyone, and demonstrate these skills through your actions.

Sleep and Teenage Brain Development The changing hormonal landscape during adolescence affects sleep patterns. However, sleep remains vital for overall health and brain development. Here are some tips to ensure your child gets adequate sleep:

  1. Comfortable Sleep Environment: Create a quiet and comfortable sleep environment for your child.

  2. Screen-Free Wind Down: Encourage your child to unwind before bed without screens, including phones.

  3. Consistent Sleep Schedule: Promote regular bedtime and wake-up times.

  4. Adequate Sleep: Ensure your child gets 8-10 hours of sleep per night for their overall well-being.

Understanding the basics of teenage brain development can help parents navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of this critical period. By actively supporting your child's positive behavior, thinking skills, and sleep, you play a fundamental role in shaping their healthy and resilient brain. Teenagers are not just under construction; they are actively constructing the foundation for their future selves.

Jayne Green (B.Ed;M.Ed)

Master Degree Counsellor and Teacher

Certified Psychoeducation Therapist



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