Why Do Teenagers Act Like Teenagers?

The behavior of the typical teenager can range from irritable and selfish to moody and reckless on any given day.  Most parents are confused by this, as their teenager seems to have suddenly lost his mind.  They wonder why their once delightful and obedient child is now so difficult to talk to, and acting out in unreasonable ways.  The answers may lie in the development of the adolescent brain, and how it is still under construction before reaching adulthood.

Important Development in the Teenage Brain

The decade-long study of normal brain development, from ages 4 to 21, by researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) shows that such “higher-order” brain centers, such as the prefrontal cortex, don’t fully develop until young adulthood.  During adolescence the brain restructures itself trimming away the cells and connections that are not being used, and hardwiring those that are being used, laying a framework for adult behavior.

Grey Matter

The grey matter of the brain is responsible for information processing, and has been acting like a sponge, soaking up everything since birth.  In the teenage years, this matter is restructured and the unnecessary parts are shed away until age twenty.  At this time, teens have a harder time learning and creating new processing centers than in childhood.

White Matter

The information of the brain is delivered through white matter.  However, teen brains have less of this matter than adults, and certain centers of the brain are not communicating well.  It is a critical time for teens as the communication pathways will continue to form and will remain for a lifetime.

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is responsible for planning, impulse control, social behavior, judgment and reasoning, and is among the last structures of the brain to fully mature.  Most teens do not have the capability of thinking about the effects of their behavior.

Since the teen years are a time for learning who you are, experimenting with new things and taking on more responsibility, it is unlikely that a brain still under construction can make rational, adult decisions.  Understanding more about the development of the brain can help parents know what their seemingly crazy teen is going through.

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