Have you ever wondered why teenagers are so crazy? We now have the answer. In recent years, scientists have discovered many new things about how the brain works and develops. Using MRIs, we are able to study brain activity. This sets the stage for new information about the teenage brain! It used to be thought that the brain was done developing by around age 10 (the time you stopped saying things like “boughted”). Now, however, we know that that’s not the case. A human brain learns all of it’s life, and it doesn’t stop growing and renovating until you are in your mid-20s. Finding out what parts of the brain are changing during adolescence sheds light on some of teenager’s most irritating qualities: selfishness, risk taking, weakness to peer pressure, and a constant need for sleep.
The brain develops from back to front. From back to front, the brain slowly becomes faster and more connected and efficient. This means that the last part of the brain to be fully “hooked-up” to the rest is the very front, the prefrontal cortex. This also happens to be the part of the brain that has rational thought, plans, and comprehends the emotions of other people. In teenagers, it’s still cooking. So, when compared to adults, teens are bad at weighing consequences when making decisions, and thinking of the feelings of others.
Another thing that is different in the teen brain versus the adult brain is the pleasure center. The part of the brain that says, “Hey! This is good!” is much more active in the teen brain. Teens’ pleasure centers are especially sensitive to social rewards, which is where peer pressure comes in. The combination of both their reasoning being not up to snuff and social acceptance being given way too much priority, teens are understandably bad at making decisions when their popularity is on the line. It’s not just in social situations when the teenage brain gets excited. It gets revved up with any risk. The teenage brain holds the possible rewards and satisfaction higher than the possible danger.
Teenagers’ sleep patterns can also helped to be explained by understanding their brains. The pituitary gland releases a growth hormone during REM sleep, making them need much more deep sleep than a person not going through a growth spurt. New research also indicates that a teenager’s brain, compared to other ages, might actually not start getting sleepy until later in the evening. Though researchers aren’t completely sure if this is just because many teenagers stupidly get in the habit of staying up late, which their body adapts to.
The adolescent brain isn’t all cons. The drive to take risks pushes a teen to get out of the house and find their own way. It helps them establish their identity through trial and error. They develop close social bonds and grow to understand people more. Because the brain isn’t finished creating itself yet, it is very adaptable; and so teens are good at learning new things.
This adaptability adds another cautionary factoid to the subject of developing brains: teens can get addicted very easily. Teens’ brains “learn” and “adapt” to drugs and alcohol. This isn’t the type of stuff that you want your brain to grow around.
Teens, take care of your brains. This is a time in your life where you need to get enough sleep and stay away from too much stress and harmful substances. I think that many teenagers think that what they do now can be changed when they are adults, but we are literally shaping the way our brain is growing. Take appropriate care, please. And, adults, please be patient with us, we are still growing in this world. We aren’t as crazy as you think.
Chloe Kincaid is a student at Soldotna High School.