Extensive MRI studies are now revealing important insights into why teen brains are ‘different’. Medical experts can now help to explain why these years are often characterised by amazing triumphs and sometimes scary pitfalls. This new knowledge may help young people to maximise the opportunities the teen years bring while minimising some of the risks and challenges they face.
The Science in Brief:
MRI studies show that “the teenage brain is not an old-child brain or a half-baked adult brain; it is a unique entity characterised by changeability and an increase in networking among brain regions”. The limbic system – which drives emotions – intensifies at puberty, but the prefrontal cortex – which controls impulses – does not mature until the 20s. There are pros and cons to this mismatch – while it can make teens prone to risk taking, it also allows them to adapt readily to their environment. This stage of development is now more prolonged due to the earlier onset of puberty in children worldwide.
Dr J, N, Giedd, Scientific American, June 2015
Teenage brains have amazing plasticity (ability to change and adapt). Extensive changes take place in
the brain during the course of adolescence.
This amazing plasticity allows teenagers to make enormous strides in thinking and socialisation.
This plasticity also makes teenagers vulnerable to dangerous behaviours and mental disorders.
The two major areas of the teenage brain are out of balance for an increasingly significant period of time. Development of the limbic system, which drives emotions, intensifies as puberty begins (typically between the ages 10 and 12), and the system matures over the next several years. But the prefrontal cortex, which keeps a lid on impulsive actions, does not approach full development until a decade later, leaving an imbalance throughout the interim years. With the earlier onset of puberty, hormones are being boosted when the prefrontal cortex is even less mature.
Implications for Educators and Career Development
Adolescents’ inherent capacity to adapt raises questions about the impact of one of the biggest environmental changes in history: the digital revolution. Computers, video games, cell phones and apps have, in the past 20 years, profoundly affected the way teens learn, play and interact. With the sheer volume of information available, the skills of the future won’t be focused on remembering facts, but to critically evaluate a vast expanse of data, and apply learnings to real-world problem solving.
Harnessing the passion, creativity and skills of the unique adolescent development period can also benefit greater society as well.
For teens themselves, the new insights of adolescent neuroscience should encourage them to challenge their brain with the kinds of skills that they want to excel at for the rest of their lives. They have an opportunity to craft their own identity and to optimise their brain’s capacity by making the most of the exciting data-rich future that will be dramatically different from the present lives of their parents.
- Capitalize on the brain plasticity of teenagers to train their brains for the demands of the digital age and career paths that may not yet even exist.
- Creativity, innovation, critical evaluation, ability to synthesize multiple sources of complex information and problem solving will be key skills required in the future. Teenage brains are designed for these functions.
- While developments in the teenage brain present amazing opportunities for rapid learning and skill development, they also present vulnerabilities. Teenagers are very open to external influences (both positive and negative).
- There is a world of possibilities available to teenagers and the research on brain development indicates that there are still significant opportunities to train the brain in a range of directions. While clear personality traits and natural skill sets may be evident, opportunities to excel and pursue a multitude of career paths remain very open.
For the full research summary: The Amazing Teenage Brain
This document relied heavily on material sourced from Dr Jay N. Giedd’s June 2015 article in Scientific American, The Amazing Teen Brain: Rapidly changing wiring leads to mental agility – and risky behaviour.
Author: Kate McBeath, Bulls-Eye Creator and Owner
In 2012, armed with a degree in Psychology, a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management and over 10 years working in HR, organisational development and consulting for large local and international businesses, Kate decided to apply her strong knowledge and experience of personality assessment, career management and coaching to develop an innovative online career tool for kiwi teenagers.
Bulls-Eye engages young people through the use of quiz based assessments; provides career path direction; and, opportunities to explore and understand a wide range of employment opportunities. The subscriber base has grown rapidly with Bulls-Eye being used by thousands of students in secondary schools all around New Zealand. The concept has recently been adapted to meet the needs of the Australian market with a pilot underway in a large school in Brisbane (Bulls-Eye Australia).