Judgment Call: The Developing Teen Brain (Infographic Intro)

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Do you recall the thrill of a snow day?

As children it was a glorious and welcomed day off from school. Frosty days that were deliciously full of unending promises of sledding, snowball fights, and hot chocolate. The recent cold snap and bout of winter weather left many parents with houses full of elated children- all except one.

A 16 year old, who shall remain nameless, grew restless and antsy being cooped up in the house with family for days on end. She sulked in her bedroom watching Netflix. Why? Her parents had the audacity to refuse her request to go shopping and hit a movie with friends during the last day of snow.

Forget the extreme negative windchills and ice gilded streets, she was determined that driving around on this particular day was a good idea.

It’s days like these when panic starts to clog like Riverdance through a parent’s head. We sit and fret. Fret and sit. Our worries picking up tempo. Yet, parents of teens can’t wrap any understanding around their reasoning or logic.

Parents need to slow down and remember that a teenager is still developing her judgment skills.

Understanding Brain Development

Teenagers are complex, because their appearances are deceiving.

On the exterior they look and talk like adults, but deep down they are still children. The human brain is still expanding and maturing until around the age of 25.

In fact, the teenage brain is undergoing a rapid growth spurt during the adolescent years. Similar to the important early childhood years, this is another paramount period of development. It’s critical to understand this process, because this transition can leave children vulnerable to risks and sobering consequences.

A majority of adolescents make this conversion without suffering terrible ramifications, but somehow high rates of certain hazards plague this age group. The teenage years see a jump in mortality rates with injury deaths (between the ages of 15 to 19) being close to 6 times the rate of adolescents (10 to 14 years old). If those numbers aren’t scary enough, crime and alcohol rates are also elevated when compared to other age groups.

It’s All About the Prefrontal Cortex

Through years of research and studies, the prefrontal cortex appears to start regrowing about the time of puberty. This area of the brain is located behind the forehead and has fascinated scientists, because it is credited with controlling judgment, memory, and mood. As this area develops, teenagers gain better control over decision making.

This maturing process involves the connections between cells. Early in puberty there is an increase in these cells, but during the teen years the brain cuts back the extra synapses. It basically prunes the areas of the brain that are not being used. This process helps strengthen the remaining connections to result in a mature brain.

Steering the Teenage Brain

Experts believe that during this process, what a teen experiences or does can influence them for their entire lives. If you don’t use parts of the brain, you will eventually lose these valuable connections. Basically, our activities discern which connections are the ones that are going to survive.

Here are 5 tips to help encourage positive brain development:

Establish times to power down electronics. Many families choose a time, such as 10 p.m., to allow a little space between the cyber world and home.

Develop and model healthy habits for your children. Eat healthy, appropriately use Social Media, exercise, and get adequate sleep. Children often emulate what they see at home so point them in the right direction.

Reclaim family time. Schedule a few hours or a day to do something together. Eating a family dinner or a bike ride can encourage the parent/teen bond.

Be involved and listen to your teen. Know her friends, interests, and concerns. The best way to do this is by talking and listening.

Monitor your teen’s Internet and cell phone use. With a convenient program you would be able to view how your child texts or interacts with her peers online.

Surviving the Flurry of the Teen Years

Experiences, hormones, and genetic makeup all affect behavior. Research is sketching a clearer drawing of how the influx of these influencers impact the changing teen brain. Parents need to understand what is occurring inside their teen; to help understand the unpredictable behavior and moods that often accompany this stage in life.

Parents need to savor these blessed few snow days, even if a door is slammed or a few eyes roll. We know that soon the moody days will melt away to college visits and graduations. The icy crust will thaw and usher in a new season of life.

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