By Amy Williams
The idea that parenting teenagers is difficult is well-known, but less discussed is how their growth and development of a teenager's brain results in causing them to exercise different judgment than they later will as an adult. Knowing about the overall development of the brain as a teen grows and develops can inform parents about providing what their children need while traveling toward adulthood.
The structure of the brain
A human brain is made of several important sections that perform specific functions. The brain stem — located at the base of the skull and connecting directly to the spine — controls involuntary and basic functions like breathing, regulating body temperature and blood pressure. Above that is the temporal lobe, which controls hormones and memory. At the very front of the skull is the frontal lobe, controlling rational thought, self-control and the ability to consider the consequences of actions, whether good or bad.
The most significant fact about the teen-age brain is that it develops not evenly but from the back to the front. This can account for the overwhelming hormonal changes and emotional outbursts that teens are known for, along with the inability to really think through the consequences of their actions. This makes teens more susceptible to risky behavior and peer pressure.
Comparing a teen and adult brain
Compared to an adult, a teenager's brain is only 80 percent developed, which goes against the theory that teenagers are basically adults with less life experience. Teens have more disconnected synapses that impairs their judgment.
Teens also use less of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the frontal lobe that allows humans to read other people's emotions. They are also unable to balance their own emotions due to this underdeveloped part of the frontal lobe. This combination leads to a variety of conflicts between parents and teens due to simple miscommunication.
Even mature teens aren't really mature
Regardless of how responsible and well-behaved a teen may appear, the biological fact is that his or her brain is simply not ready for judgment calls that adults often face. They do not have the same understanding of how their behavior can affect their own lives or those of other people. Even though teens seem really ready for more independence, they still need parents to be available, listen and intervene when necessary in life's challenges.
What teens need
A teenager's brain is more sensitive to overload, especially when it comes to sensory stimuli. While teens typically learn faster than adults, they can become overwhelmed, especially when feeling stress or deprived of sleep. This can also lead teenagers feeling more susceptible to peer pressure and the inability to make sound decisions.
As a result, teenagers need more restful sleep and down time than adults might. Because they are busy and quite easily distracted, they need plenty of healthy, whole food to feed their bodies and minds. They also need parents who are willing to be there, listen, talk and provide the structure for teens to stretch against as they continue to grow and develop. Clear expectations and healthy boundaries help teenagers feel secure and provide a firm foundation for their brain development.
The White Mountain Waldorf School offers nursery through grade 8. The school is located 2 miles south of Conway Village. It is offering tiered tuition for the 2016-2017 school year. Call (603) 447-3168 if you would like more information or to schedule a tour. You can learn more about the school by visiting www.WhiteMountainWaldorf.org
Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she has learned a lot of things the hard way, and hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.
- Category: Education