The Adolescent Brain

Can you recall what it was like to be a teenager?  Bad acne, raging hormones and peer pressure are just a few hallmarks of the adolescent years.  Adolescence is not just a stop-over between childhood and adulthood; researchers now realize the great importance of this stage of development.  There is new research showing that all of the crazy risk-taking activities, poor decision making and lack of planning is developmentally appropriate behavior for teenagers and a result of their uniquely developing brain.

Recently I watched a fascinating Ted Talk by cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore about the mysterious workings of the adolescent brain.  Blakemore posed two questions in her talk:  why are adolescents so impulsive and why are they less self-aware than adults?  Blakemore talked about how at one time scientists thought that the brain was fully developed by the end of childhood, but are now learning that during adolescence the pre-frontal cortex is still developing quite slowly, giving way to risk-taking, social awkwardness, challenges in learning and making wise choices.   Listening to her talk made me think about the adolescents I work with that have difficulties relating and communicating to one another and the adults around them.

So, I pose a question for educators as well as parents: if we know now that the adolescent brain develops more slowly and is really different from an adult, how can we help support and educate our students both in and out of the classroom? How can we support and guide those who have challenges, and steer them down a path of making positive choices, understand consequences and developing a sense of self-awareness?


-Tara Gilbert

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