Inside Your Teen’s Mind: Facts Every Parent Needs to Know

talk to teenThe teenager has baffled parents for decades – just what is it that makes them slam their bedroom doors in your face and glue their eyes to the computer screen? Here are a few of the facts about what’s going on in their minds, to help you improve family wellness.

Adolescence, or the time between the ages of 11 and 19, is considered a critical time of development – and not just in terms of appearance. According to Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, ‘The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence.’ No matter how grown up they seem (or they think they seem) ‘they are still in a developmental period that will affect the rest of their life,’ she said.

There was a time when cognitive wellness experts though only infants have an overabundance of neuronal connections, but brain imaging studies, such as one published in 1999 in Nature Neuroscience, have demonstrated that, peaking at about age 11 for girls and 12 for boys, a second burst of neuronal sprouting happens. Johnson explained that your teen’s experiences shape this new grey matter, mostly following a ‘use it or lose it’ strategy.

However, even though this increase in brain matter makes the teen brain more interconnected and high in processing power, Sheryl Feinstein, author of Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress, explained that their decision-making can be overly influenced by emotions in the heat of the moment, because their brains rely more on the limbic system (the emotional seat of the brain) than the more rational prefrontal cortex.

Johnson added that teen tantrums are a way of adjusting to the incredible new skills sets, especially when it comes to social behaviour and abstract thought. She explained that teenagers need to experiment with these skills, and use their parents as guinea pigs, which is ‘not a personal affront’. Feinstein agreed that your teenager needs you, with your more stable adult brain, to help them by staying calm, listening and being good role models while they are dealing with this huge amount of social, emotional and cognitive flux and are still developing their abilities to cope.

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