Judgment and the Teenage Brain
Judgment and the Teenage Brain
Ask any parent: The teenage brain is difficult to decipher. And regardless of whether your teenager has special needs or not, the mood swings, out-of-character decisions, and often times reckless behavior is tough to understand.
Recent studies have discovered a strong contributor to these odd behaviors in teenagers. They have found that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the child reaches his or her young adult years: the mid-20s. The last portion of the brain to develop is in the frontal lobe, which plays a key role in assessing risks or handling emotions.
Development of Brain Disorders
As the idea of a teenage immature brain becomes more widely accepted, it’s natural to wonder whether or not the fact that the brain is still immature during the teenage years contributes to the development of childhood brain disorders. Evidence supporting this idea certainly exists, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The NIMH states that studies continue to show that developmental disorders seem to have a root cause in the time when the brain is still developing. Studies are continuing and scientists are paying particular attention to the brains of teenagers when trying to find the reason why mental illnesses and developmental disorders occur.
A teenager’s brain may be only 80% developed, as extra, unconnected synapses in the teen’s brain seem to block the ability of the youngster to sometimes make judgments and to think rationally. As the brain continues to develop while the teenager moves into young adulthood, these synapses disappear in most teenagers.
Because some psychological disorders begin to develop during the teenage years, it’s possible that disorders like bipolar affective disorder are related to the immature brain and the extra synapses. Perhaps the brain removes these synapses too fast, leading to the development of the disorder.
Suffering From Depression
Studies indicate depression is another disorder that may have its roots in the development of the teen brain. With the lack of maturing in the frontal cortex, teenagers are more susceptible to mood swings, stress, and peer pressure; all of which can lead to depression. And, if the teen turns to alcohol or drugs to try to deal with the depression, his still-immature brain will be affected more strongly by drugs and alcohol than an adult.
An inability to deal well with stressful situations is another symptom of the teenager’s still-developing brain. Whether that stress is the result of some sort of abuse, bullying from other teenagers, or an inability to meet expectations, the result can be similar.
Such mental health problems brought on by stress may lead to further disorders, either during the teenage years or into adulthood. These disorders can lead to depression and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Development of Learning Disorders
Learning disorders also sometimes begin revealing themselves in a special needs child during the teenage years. Disorders such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) often appear early in a child’s life, but when it does manifest itself in the teenage years, it’s possible the still-maturing teenager’s brain plays a role in the development of the learning disorder.
Ultimately, according to the NIMH, researchers hope to figure out how interventions with teenagers during this key time in the brain’s development can help head off mental illnesses, or at least reduce the impact they have on the life of the child. Researchers are also looking for links between how a teenager’s environment affects the development of the brain. The graphic below contains some advice for helping parents guide their teenagers through the time as their brains are developing.
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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