The Teenage Brain

brainxteenHere's an interesting clip from an article I found on the Harvard Magazine online. It helps to explain why some kids can seem so smart and act so... well, unsmart. Your teenagers lack of judgement isn't always because they're just plain irresponsible or that they don't care, it could very well be the fact that their brain hasn't yet developed to full capacity and shouldn't be entrusted with many adult tasks quite yet. For you hovering moms that just can't stop watching and making sure your child is well and safe, here's some proof that your instincts just may be more on target than everyone tells you.

Your teenage daughter gets top marks in school, captains the debate team, and volunteers at a shelter for homeless people. But while driving the family car, she text-messages her best friend and rear-ends another vehicle.

How can teens be so clever, accomplished, and responsible—and reckless at the same time? Easily, according to two physicians at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School (HMS) who have been exploring the unique structure and chemistry of the adolescent brain. "The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it," says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. "It's a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they're not quite sure what to do with them."

Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior, even without the impact of souped-up hormones and any genetic or family predispositions.

There are also gender differences in brain development. As Drs. Urion and Jensen explain, the part of our brain that processes information expands during childhood and then begins to thin, peaking in girls at roughly 12 to 14 years old and in boys about two years later. This suggests that girls and boys may be ready to absorb challenging material at different stages, and that schools may be missing opportunities to reach them.

Evelyn Higginbotham

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