We used to think that teenagers respond “not normally” because of their hormones, or attitude, or because they simply need independence. But when adolescents’ brains are studied by researchers through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), it was found that they actually work differently compared with adult brains. Teenagers’ brain is still in the progress.
By learning how adolescent brain development, parents can understand the teens’ behaviors, such as impulsiveness, rebellion, high emotions and risk-taking, which are “normal” teenage behaviors, so that parents can guide the confusing and frustrating teen years and teens’ behavior and personalities as they get older better.
By scientists, the human brain takes 25 years to fully develop. With the advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers can see how the brain actually functions, what parts of the brain use energy when performing certain tasks. For instance, research found that the particular part of the brain “lights up” when performing a visual task.
It was thought at one time that the foundation of the brain’s architecture was laid down by the time a child is five or six. In fact, 95 percent of the structure of the brain has been formed by then. Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., together with colleagues found that an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, appeared to be growing again just before puberty(age 11 in girls, 12 in boys). The prefrontal cortex acts as the CEO of the brain, which is responsible for complex judgment and decision-making, such as controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood. It was observed, as the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better.
It was found that the frontal cortex gives adults the ability to distinguish a subtlety of expression. For the teens, this area wasn’t fully operating. That’s a possible reason to explain that the teenage years seem so emotionally turbulent, and the teens seem to be misreading the feelings on the adult’s face.
Reactions, rather than rational thought, come deeper in the brain, than the frontal cortex, some neuroscientists suggest that an immature brain leads to impulsivity, or “risk-taking behavior.”
Jay Giedd and his colleagues’ research confirm what other neuroscientists have outlined over the past 25 years that different parts of the brain mature at different times. In particular, it has shown that the frontal cortex of human beings matures relatively late in a child’s life.
Some researchers argue that the idea that adolescents are difficult because their frontal lobes aren’t mature is one we should be very cautious of. We all know there are adolescents that are hard to get along with. However, there are adults with mature frontal areas that are hard to get along with for the same reason. In addition, there are very young children who seem to have no problem with this. Very immature brain structure, yet results in very sophisticated behavior. Therefore, moving from structure to function, deciding what behavior is caused by what part of the brain is much more complicated.
Besides a few well-defined sensitive periods for certain types of vision, hearing, and first-language learning, the brain is capable of growth well beyond the first few years of life. It is found that an important part of the growth is happening just before puberty and well into adolescence.
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