Rewiring Your Brain to Understand The Teen Brain

I was sitting with my accountant the other day, and instead of talking about my taxes, we talked about teens obviously.  Teens are far more interesting, that is for certain!  After he realized what my work was all about, he started talking to me about some recent information he had discovered about the brain.  He used to be a coach in Squamish, and he told me how his new understanding about the way brains work really would have helped him when he was a coach.

When I worked with teens and tweens in Vermont, I was introduced to the PBS series, “Inside the Teenage Brain.”  It’s a great introduction to more recent research about brain development and how it can influence behavior.  I went on to study more about brain development, since it is the root of all of our physical, emotional, social ways of being, and there’s insights that I have learned that drastically change the way I work with families and youth, such as:

  • A brain is still growing.  It finishes full development in the mid-twenties.  (I always like to mention that I’m very proud to have acquired a full brain now- someone should have given me a medal when I graduated into my full brain growth!).  Sometimes when a teen/tween doesn’t “get it”- it’s not their fault. It’s that their brain isn’t working in the same way as mine (and that is not meant as a backhanded insult to teens/tweens!).
  • The part of the brain that allows tweens/teens to understand long term goals and long term consequences is not developed until the mid-twenties.  So consequences to actions and thinking about the future, needs to think about the next 6 months, not the next year (or the next ten years).  This makes sense- their entire lifetime is so short that 6 months is a  very long time to them.
  •  Some of their choices (such as being influenced by their peers, choosing high sugar foods or sleeping in until noon) is more about their brains than about whether or not they want to “choose healthy behaviors.”  So why blame them for their brains?  A teen’s internal clock is meant to be active later in the day, not first thing in the morning.  High sugar foods are a teenage brain’s way of becoming high functioning and alert in the quickest way possible.  Being influenced by their peers is actually hardwired into their dopamine system in their brains.

I hope this helps you re-think how you’re interacting with the teens around you.  Sometimes, what we roll our eyes about, is that they aren’t grown up (internally or externally), and if you think about it, that’s the nature of being a teen! They’re not quite adults yet. They’re adults-in-training, with brains-in-training too.

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