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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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  1. Anon says:

    There is a say­ing “it is very tough to read teenagers mind ”

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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