The teenage brain – Under Construction


– Are you making responsible choices in your life?

– Have you ever made use of the phrase “When I was your age”?
– Has your brain already reached 90% of its own size?

If any of those signs apply to you, then you are most likely someone in their early to mid-20s drifting into adulthood.

Between the ages of 12 and 25 is when the brain undergoes a massive reorganization that modifies and reassembles the majority of its synapses and neural connections. Your brain is basically going through an entire network and wiring upgrade that in future will be responsible for a better judgment at decision making in different aspects of life, such as ethics, rules and interests.

Updating the brain

Brain maturity is said to be reached during puberty, but in actuality that is only the period at which the brain reaches 90% of its growth, actually the brain never stops growing. During puberty is when a teenager is at most vulnerable to impulsive and unexpected behavior. David Dobbs, an author and writer for the National Geographic got a taste of the typical teen acting out, when his son was confronted by police officials for speeding too much. When asked about the reasoning for the reckless stunt young Dobbs responded by saying “It’s just not accurate.  ’Reckless’ sounds like you’re not paying attention. But I was. I made a deliberate point of doing this on an empty stretch of dry interstate, in broad daylight, with good sight lines and no traffic. I mean, I wasn’t just gunning the thing. I was driving.” Clearly the (at the time) 17 year old was aware of the situation he was in and yet he decided to push his boundaries.

For those who have had to deal with the rash behavior of a common teenager and on multiple occasions had to ask them “What were you thinking?”, the question should rather be re-phrased to “How were you thinking?”.

The image below shows different stages of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for organization, planning, and most importantly modulating mood.

Brain maturity isn’t everything

While adults can use rational processes when facing emotional decisions, teenagers are simply not yet equipped to think through things in the same way.
This result was reached by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and colleagues at the Boston McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center. The researchers applied magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brain activity of adolescents and adults and discovered differences, one of which would be the ability of controlling emotions and impulses. One could say that the spontaneous and at times impulsive behavior of the younger generation is in fact science based, but random acts of thoughtless behavior should not solely be justified by that.

The beauty of growing up is not the emotional and unforeseen difficulties one has to overcome, but the “neural gawkiness”, as Dobbs worded it, which is concerned with the awkward stage one’s brain goes through when it is upgrading.

But being in your early 20s isn’t only the period where your brain peaks maturity, it is also the time of self-discovery and awareness. Where am I heading in life? Is my carrier path set? Is there enough food in my fridge?

According to the Wall Street Journal experts advice to chill out, to put it in simpler words. It is better to worry about such matters intensively in their late 20s rather than the early 20s since no one quite knows where exactly they are headed until much later in life.

On a different aspect of drifting from younger years to adult years, Tracey Locke shares her point of view on how to become a grown up without having to actually “grow-up” in her TED talk

Header image credits royalty free

 

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