Adolescent Brain

Teenagers. They’re known for getting up
late, avoiding homework and being melodramatic. Hormones often get the blame but they’re
not the only factor at play. They’re just part of the incredible transformation
going on inside the teenage brain. And by understanding that transformation,
teachers can help teenagers as they transition into adulthood. Changes in two important systems in the brain
are thought to create the stereotypical behaviours seen in teenagers. On the one hand the pre-frontal cortex, is
still slowly maturing. It’s responsible for complex and abstract thoughts, for future
planning, and for controlling attention and behaviour. It’s why teenagers are often impulsive without
considering the consequences, and seem to live in the moment. And why they often find
it hard to plan ahead. When a teenager leaves home on a cold day
without a coat or doesn’t plan time for homework, it’s because future needs or wants
are difficult to put above the here and now. At the same time deep structures in the brain
that process emotions and rewards are affected by the hormonal changes of puberty. This can cause teenagers to be highly emotional
and focus on things that give them instant gratification like social interaction, sensation
seeking and risk taking. It’s why they crave time with their friends,
why they’re glued to their mobile phones and why they might try to break the rules. Teachers have a huge role to play in teenage
brain development. Whether that’s helping teenagers with abstract
concepts like algebra, or supporting their emotional development. For example, teenagers can perform and learn
better when immediate rewards are at stake and emotions are stimulated. The environment and culture they are surrounded
by is also very important. It helps them develop their values, beliefs
and their sense of who they are. Their heightened social sensitivity means
leaders within peer groups can exert a big influence on others. Encouraging good behaviours in these leaders
may promote learning and prevent bullying. It’s also important to know that changes
going on in the teenage brain can make them vulnerable. Many mental health problems such
as anxiety and depression start during the teenage years . Helping teenagers find positive strategies
to deal with emotions can support good mental health for the future. Because teenagers start to “look” like
adults, it’s easy to forget that they’re still in a prolonged state of development.
In fact their brains continue to develop into their mid-twenties. Understanding how the teenage brain works
and its impact on their interests and behaviour can really help inform teaching strategies.

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