Adolescence is often a difficult passage for parents to navigate. Their children are developing physically, driving, becoming increasingly independent and self-sufficient,
and in general, â€œcoming into their own.â€ And yet, they often exercise poor judgment and engage in reckless behavior. How do we understand this? Brain research has an explanation for it. The part of teenage brain responsible for decision making, the pre-frontal cortex, is under major construction. In fact, science now tells us that the brain doesnâ€™t become fully developed until 25 to 27 years of age, and it can change throughout life! We as parents often arenâ€™t aware of how this brain growth during adolescence has its impact on teenage behavior and moods. Itâ€™s not that we should â€œoverlookâ€ risky teenage behavior and the frequent mood swings but being knowledgeable about brain development in adolescence provides us with a compass and a better understanding of teenage behaviors.
Dr. Sheryl Feinstein, Chair of the Education Department at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD specializes in adolescence brain development and teenage behavior. She is the author of Secrets of the Teenage Brain 2nd Ed (2009) and my guest on Blog Talk Radio on Monday, June 12th. Dr. Feinstein emphasized that along with the massive brain reconstruction during adolescence in general, differences in what goes on in the male and female brain exist. For example, in adolescent boys, the amygdala (the emotional seat of the brain) is much larger and more active than in girls due to testosterone and its influence. In general, boysâ€™ anger is triggered more easily and quickly. Knowing this, we can help our sons find ways to manage their outbursts and be understanding of their risky behaviors. In fact, we can use adolescence as a time to help boys to learn how to control their anger. Often, a conversation acknowledging the stress they are experiencing is â€œnormalâ€ and in part, a result of their brain undergoing rapid growth can be the beginning of a valuable dialogue.