From time to time, you may wonder just what’s going on with your teen’s brain. The answer is quite a bit. As your adolescent grows to look more and more like an adult, you may wonder why he (or she) doesn’t think and react the way you do. The answer is he just can’t. His brain is still developing, and it won’t look like an adult’s brain until he reaches his early 20s. Surprised? Here are some important points to consider the next time your teen seems to act without thinking first:
- Your teen’s brain is developing from the rear to the front. The back portion (cerebellum) controls motor control as well as your teen’s ability to reason and control her impulses. She’ll be in her mid-20s before it’s fully developed.
- The amygdala is more towards the bottom, center part of the brain and controls emotion. Teens are often full of crazy, out-of-control, over-the-top emotions. This is the part of the brain you have to thank for that.
- Then there’s the prefrontal cortex. You know how you’re always hoping your teen will exercise good judgment? This can get in the way. The prefrontal cortex controls judgment, reason, and impulses. And this part isn’t fully developed until 25 either.
- The nucleus accumbens controls motivation, and believe it or not your teen has some. Just watch what happens when he or she “wants” to do something, such as play a video game, go to a movie, hang with friends, watch the football game, buy an awesome dress for the prom, or drive your car. Yes, your teen can be motivated, but the not-fully-developed prefrontal cortex makes it hard for him to control his impulses once he gets excited about something.
What does all of this mean for your household? Basically, your teen is a ball of physically inclined emotions that gets easily motivated for quick-payoff, high-fun activities that don’t require a whole lot of effort. At the same time, he can be given to exercising poor judgment, reasoning and planning when enjoying them.
That was the bad news. The good news is your teen has you. You provide loving care, guidance, and help with the judgment, reasoning and planning as well as cheerleading to help your teen stay motivated for the right things.