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Home » Newspaper News

Research shows that the teenage brain is not fully developed

April 2, 2014
James F Byrnes Freshman Academy

A teenage boy comes home from school to find an angry mother standing at the door. The school has called to report a discipline issue. She yells and screams at him for pushing another student into the locker and asks him why he did it.

He answers, “I don’t know why I did it, Mom.  I just got mad and pushed him before I knew what else to do.”

She continues to fuss at him for the mistake he made, but what she doesn’t realize is that his young, teenage brain is not fully developed.

Scientists used to believe that the brain was finished developing at an early age, although studies have recently shown that the brain is not fully-developed until the mid-20s.

The National Republic Radio (npr.org) states, “It’s not so much what teens are thinking – it’s how.”

In the story above, the mom thinks that her child was not thinking at all when he got in the fight; however, studies show that the boy did not think through his decision.

The region of the brain that controls the instincts is called the amygdala. This part of the brain develops early.

Teenagers use the amygdala most often, unlike adults, who use the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for decision-making and reasoning which develops later in life.

Frontline interviewed Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, who stated that the frontal lobe usually begins to mature at about the same time as puberty.

Jay also said, “I think that [in the teen years], this part of the brain that is helping organization, planning and strategizing is not done being built yet ... [It's] not that the teens are stupid or incapable. It's sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision making before their brain is finished being built.”

“Teenagers are capable of learning a lot,” an article on The Education for the Information Age (edinformatics.com), begins, “but the parts of their brains related to emotions and decision-making are still in the works.”

According to an article by the Discovery Company (science.howstuffworks.com), “For adults, various parts of the brain work together to evaluate choices, make decisions and act accordingly in each situation. The teenage brain doesn't appear to work like this.”

“When teenagers do use the frontal lobe, it seems they overdo it, calling upon much more of the brain to get the job done than adults would,” the article also stated.

The article on The Education for the Information Age (edinformatics.com), also states that “In calm situations, teenagers can rationalize almost as well as adults. But stress can hijack what Ron Dahl, a pediatrician and child psychiatric researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center calls ‘hot cognition’ and decision-making.”

According to Frontline’s interview of Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, the director of neuropsychology and cognitive neuroimaging at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, “The part of the brain that has more of that gut reaction will respond to a greater extent than the adult brain will. And we think that that is due to the fact that this frontal region is not interacting with the emotional region in the same way.”

“An area of the teenager's brain that is fairly well-developed early on, though, is the nucleus accumbens, or the area of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward,” the Discovery Company (science.howstuffworks.com) explained. 

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