Moody, Impulsive, Maddening! The Teenage Brain!


What is he thinking?? Is he using his brain? How can someone so smart, make such horrible decisions? Have you ever asked yourself one these questions?

Here’s a peek into the developing brain of your teenager!

Understanding your teen’s brain development will help you better understand his decisions, thoughts and behaviors.  In teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses may actually be heightened. They are able to “feel” passionately; about music, politics, families, school, friends. But keeping this passionate ability to “feel” in check or manageable is a secondary brain development process. It comes later and is more complex. Because teens feel so passionately but don’t have total brain development to manage those feelings, we see more unpredictable or extreme emotions which can lead to more impulsive behaviors.   These feelings are so intense; much like when they were two years old and having a temper tantrum because they didn’t have the words or communication skills to tell us what was wrong.  Teens emotional adjustment, or advanced brain development can come with extreme anger, excessive worrying, dramatic mood changes, or crying easily.  They are working on advanced brain development! The moods, the snarky comments, the behaviors and the attitudes really are a part of a teen’s brain development!

Here is what is going on in his brain according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

He is learning how to use many parts of his brain together. Connections between different parts of the brain increase throughout childhood and well into adulthood. As the brain develops, the fibers connecting nerve cells are wrapped in a protein that greatly increases the speed with which they can transmit impulses from cell to cell. The resulting increase in connectivity—a little like providing a growing city with a fast, integrated communication system—shapes how well different parts of the brain work in tandem. Research is finding that the extent of connectivity is related to growth in intellectual capacities such as memory and reading ability.

Emotional responses are heightened. Several lines of evidence suggest that the brain circuitry involved in emotional responses is changing during the teen years. Functional brain imaging studies, for example, suggest that the responses of teens to emotionally loaded images and situations are heightened relative to younger children and adults. The brain changes underlying these patterns involve brain centers and signaling molecules that are part of the reward system with which the brain motivates behavior. These age-related changes shape how much different parts of the brain are activated in response to experience, and in terms of behavior, the urgency and intensity of emotional reactions.

The dreaded hormonal changes are not a myth. Enormous hormonal changes take place during adolescence. Reproductive hormones shape not only sex-related growth and behavior, but overall social behavior. Hormone systems involved in the brain’s response to stress are also changing during the teens. As with reproductive hormones, stress hormones can have complex effects on the brain, and as a result, behavior.

What? He might be smarter than you already? In terms of sheer intellectual power, the brain of an adolescent is a match for an adult’s. The capacity of a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence. At the same time, behavioral tests, sometimes combined with functional brain imaging, suggest differences in how adolescents and adults carry out mental tasks. Adolescents and adults seem to engage different parts of the brain to different extents during tests requiring calculation and impulse control, or in reaction to emotional content.

Sleep, Sleep Sleep! Research suggests that adolescence brings with it brain-based changes in the regulation of sleep that may contribute to teens’ tendency to stay up late at night. Along with the obvious effects of sleep deprivation, such as fatigue and difficulty maintaining attention, inadequate sleep is a powerful contributor to irritability and depression. Studies of children and adolescents have found that sleep deprivation can increase impulsive behavior; some researchers report finding that it is a factor in delinquency. Adequate sleep is central to physical and emotional health.

NIH Publication No. 11-4929



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