This is an exciting time for our teens, where they experience increased cognitive abilities, learning, and memory due to the brain’s ability to rewire its connections in response to experiences. What triggers this transition? Physical development (aka puberty), which also initiates brain development. As a teen, I am not only dealing with the stresses of adjusting to physical changes but also learning to deal with intellectual, social, and emotional development. It’s like BOOM…here it is…figure it out.
The teen brain is hardwiring itself during this time, creating a foundation for adulthood. While physical development (puberty) is mostly autopilot, a teen’s intellectual, social, and emotional growth must be nurtured and developed.
Thoughts, feelings, and actions repeated over time become a set of neurons that become pathways. These pathways are used for decision-making and behavior patterns in adulthood. Use of alcohol, drugs, or severe trauma during this period creates pathways that often lead to poor decision-making and a pattern of questionable choices resulting in a lifetime of struggle. This is a key reason 90% of people addicted to drugs or alcohol started using in their teenage years. And now you understand why teen brain development is the Way Out West Coalition’s number one reason to keep our kids from getting involved with drugs or alcohol.
Also happening are elaborate changes in the brain’s dopamine system, which influences learning about what is rewarding in the environment. And if that’s not enough, the teen brain focuses on risk and excitement – that’s why teens get bored easily. Ever heard this response: “How was school today?” “Boring…”
What’s exciting to many of them? Rumors, gossip, drama, social media, sports, theater, parties, who’s dating who, and high-risk behaviors that may involve sneaking out of the house at night, sex, stealing alcohol, pot, or pills from home, and one more thing; not getting caught. All these high-risk behaviors have what the teen brain focuses on – risk and excitement. Our job as parents is to foil these high-risk behavior attempts. The fact is, if a teen does adolescence well, adulthood gets much easier. Our goal as parents is to help our teens do adolescence well.