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Top 10 Resources to Better Understand the Teenage Brain— Brain Health Series Part 2

Ado­les­cence can be a chal­lenging time for both the ado­les­cents and the sig­nif­i­cant adults (par­ents, teach­ers) in their lives. Teenagers them­selves do not always under­stand why they behave the way they do. Why is it dif­fi­cult being a teenager or inter­act­ing with one? Why do teenagers have these typ­i­cal behav­iors: Risk-taking, strange sleep­ing habits, addic­tion, impul­siv­ity, etc.?

As look­ing at what is hap­pen­ing in a teenage brain can pro­vide answers to these ques­tions, we selected the Top 10 Resources to help you bet­ter under­stand the teenage brain. The major thread to nav­i­gate these resources is the con­cept of a brain still matur­ing. Indeed, an ado­les­cent brain is not yet an adult brain. Major changes are still hap­pen­ing, prin­ci­pally in the frontal lobes (more specif­i­cally in the pre­frontal cor­tex). The frontal lobes (in red here) sup­port the so-called exec­u­tive func­tions: decision-making, problem-solving, plan­ning, inhibit­ing, as well as other high-level func­tions (social behav­ior, emo­tional con­trol, work­ing mem­ory, etc.).

1. Brain Storm: A fun and inter­ac­tive fea­ture from the New Sci­en­tist to dis­cover which parts of the brain are matur­ing dur­ing ado­les­cence and how this mat­u­ra­tion can explain some unique ado­les­cent behav­iors, such as risk tak­ing and morn­ing lies-in.

2. The Ado­les­cent Brain: A work in progress: This doc­u­ment, writ­ten in the con­text of the National Cam­paign to Pre­vent Teen Preg­nancy, sum­ma­rizes the many changes that occurs in the teenage brain. A detailed and inter­est­ing read by Daniel Wein­berger, M.D., Brita Elvevåg, Ph.D and Jay Giedd, M.D.

3. Teenage Brain Fact Sheet, by the NIHM (National Insti­tute of Men­tal Health):  Sum­ma­rizes the most sig­nif­i­cant recent neu­roimag­ing stud­ies show­ing changes in the teenage brain. These changes may reflect a process called synap­tic prun­ing, which has been shown to occur ear­lier in life too: Neural con­nec­tions (synapses) that get exercised/used are retained, while those that do not are lost.

4. Inside the Teenage Brain: With this very com­plete PBS doc­u­men­tary you will learn about research find­ings on the teen brains, the effect of sleep on teenagers’ mem­ory, and many more inter­est­ing facts. Advice and online activ­i­ties for par­ents are also avail­able.

5. Inter­views with Sci­en­tists: A great com­ple­ment to the PBS pro­gram are the inter­views with the sci­en­tists appear­ing in the pro­gram. We rec­om­mend in par­tic­u­lar the inter­view with Dr. Jay Giedd, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at the NIMH, who talks about what teens do dur­ing their ado­les­cent years and how it can affect how their brains develop.

6. Brief on men­tal dis­or­ders: This short text from the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science explores poten­tial brain-based rea­sons why dis­or­ders such as schiz­o­phre­nia and bi-polar dis­or­der usu­ally emerge dur­ing adolescence.

7. Depres­sion in Ado­les­cents: The NIMH pro­vides here infor­ma­tion on anti­de­pres­sant med­ica­tions for ado­les­cent: Do they work? What does research tell us? What’s the rela­tion­ship between SSRI and sui­cide rates in teenagers?

8. Teenagers and addic­tion: This NPR story shows how their brain chem­istry explains how eas­ily teenagers can become addicted to alco­hol, nico­tine and ille­gal sub­stances.

9. Dr. Sylwester’s book, The Ado­les­cent Brain, com­bines per­sonal sto­ries with knowl­edge from psy­chol­ogy, edu­ca­tion and neu­ro­science. Dr. Syl­wester recently explained to us how teenagers are learn­ing “how to be pro­duc­tive repro­duc­tive human beings” by plan­ning the future, explor­ing emo­tions and sex­u­al­ity and becom­ing independent.

10. Dr Fein­stein’ s book, the Secrets of the Teenage Brain: Research-Based Strate­gies for Reach­ing & Teach­ing Today’s Ado­les­cents is a nice hands-on guide that helps edu­ca­tors use insights from cur­rent research on the teenage brain to in turn help their teenage stu­dents achieve their full aca­d­e­mic potential.

In sum, teenagers’ brains are still in train­ing. One impor­tant impli­ca­tion is that these years have a huge poten­tial in terms of estab­lish­ing brain healthy habits. For a refresher on what these habits are and how they can become part of you as well as of the teenagers in your life, con­sider revis­it­ing the 10 Habits of Highly Effec­tive Brains.

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Keep learn­ing in the third part of our Brain Health series: The Adult Brain (to be pub­lished in Jan­u­ary). To make sure you do not miss it con­sider sub­scribing to our free monthly Brain Fit­ness e-newsletter.

It is not too late to check out the first part of the series:  Top 10 Q&A about Child’s Brain Devel­op­ment — Brain Health Series Part 1

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