Everyone knows and remembers their tough teenage years. For some, it was the best time of their life; for others, the memories are the opposite. What is even more challenging than being a teenager yourself, is living with one. It is as if it happens over night; a happy, fun-loving child becomes a dramatic, chaotic pre-teen. In PBS Frontline’s “Inside the Teenage Brain”, some of the mysteries involving why and how the teenage brain works are revealed. The brain in general, is very complex and complicated; although, it seems as if it doubles in complication once a child enters into their teenage years.
Teenagers become more moody and their behaviors often dramatically change during these few years of life. For generations, scientist, along with parents and adults, have pondered what is the cause of the dramatic changes. With the recent use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with other new technologies, scientist are finally able to answer some of these questions involving the teenage brain. Dr. Jay Giedd, from the National Institute of Mental Health, explains how one night per week he uses a MRI in order to view the inside of children’s brains. Thanks to the MRI scientist, along with Dr.
Giedd, can now explore the growing activity of the human brain. Scientists have concluded that the brain mostly develops in two stages: while a child is still in the womb till to the first 18 months of life and when a child hits puberty. During these two stages of life, the brain creates an abundance of brain cells and grows at a dramatic rate. Dr. Giedd states, “This was a process we knew happened in the womb, maybe even the first 18 moths of life, but it was only when we started following in the same children by scanning their brains at two-year intervals that we detected a second wave of overproduction. He continues by discussing how this second stage of dramatic brain development is “its most tumultuous time of brain development. ”
Not only has the MRI allowed scientist to discover how the brain develops during the teenage years, but has also given an inside on how to understand and parent teenagers. In order for scientist and parents to be able to understand teenagers, they must first learn what is happening in the teens’ brains during this time. What parents often do not realize is that the teen stage in life is still a part of childhood development.
This meaning, teens are still going to have temper tantrums and fits. Like earlier mentioned, the brain mostly develops and grows in two stages during life. These two stages are referred to as growth spurts and pruning. During these two stages, the frontal cortex of the brain begins to thicken and rapidly grow. The frontal cortex of the brain is located right behind the forehead; this region of the brain is responsible for one’s behavior, strategy, and how one makes decisions. We usually refer to this time of pruning of the frontal cortex as puberty.
Teenagers usually go through puberty one to two years. As a teen is going through puberty, their brain is developing at the rate it was when they were an infant. One more concept scientist use when discussing the growing frontal cortex of a teen is the “loose it or use it” principal. This meaning, teens either use their new brain cells for academic and/or physical activities, or they loose the use of the cells. Teenagers’ mood swings and dumb decisions are well know and publicized.
Adults usually just shake their heads at teens’ young, free-willed spirits, and most parents are clueless on how to deal with their teen’s mood swings. Little do they realize, that the frontal cortex is responsible for a teenager’s unexplainable behavior. As the frontal cortex thickens during puberty, it is changing in order to allow teens to make wiser decisions and level out their emotions. After testing teenagers on how they read emotion, Dr. Deborah Yurgelum-Todd discovered that unlike adults, teens read emotions in a different part of the brain.
Also, the response region of a teen’s brain is more active than that of an adult’s. This leads to a miscommunication of feelings between adults and adolescents. Teens respond incorrectly to adults’ feelings because they are reading the wrong emotion of the adult. This explains the common phrase of teens’, “You just don’t understand me! ” So what are the characteristics that determine when your child is becoming a teenager? First, you would notice how hard it is to wake up your son or daughter for school in the morning. Teens love their sleep and are sometimes impossible to wake.
Why is this? During this time of their life teenagers are using all their energy trying to keep up with their peers and learning the responsibilities of being an adult, and sleep is their way of coping with the dramatic, tiring tasks. As explained in the program, there have been studies on how sleep affects a teen. Dr. Marry Carskadon at Brown University states that after testing teens’ sleep it appears as if they have a sleep disorder. Teenagers need at least 9 ½ hours of sleep every night in order to function correctly.
The amount of sleep one gets reflects how well they will perform the next day. Surprisingly, our parents were right when lecturing us as children about getting a good night’s rest. Not only does the amount of sleep determine when a child becomes a teen, but also their unexplainable change in behavior. Once a child becomes a teen, their emotions seem to be uncontrollable. One moment they are happy and the next they are mad at the world. Teenagers look for adventure and always want to get into something. Parents are usually shocked at their new teen’s attitude.
Teen’s attitude can be very hateful at times and they usually let out their random burst of anger towards their parents. Not only are teen’s parents shocked at what can come out of their child’s mouth, but teens are also surprised at what can come out of their mouths. Both parents and teens are caught of guard with the new behavior and try to make sense of it all. Most teenagers’ parents have the question, “How do I control this new, unexplainable behavior? ” in their minds. Parents are stunned at the answers scientist have for this question.
The only advice scientist have for parents is the same our grandmothers have given. The best way to make it through your child’s teenage years is to give them an abundance of love and attention. This might be thought of as impossible considering it seems as if that is the opposite of what a teen wants. Although teens might protest that they just want to be left alone, in their mind they want time with their parents. So to sum it up, take a deep breath and continue to fight for a relationship with your teen; it might sound crazy, but in reality, they want your time just as much as you want theirs.
Overall, I found Frontline’s “Inside the Teenage Brain” very fascinating and relatable, considering I am still a teen myself. Although I can control my emotions more now than when I was in middle school, at times I still find myself upset for no reason. It is still very tough being a teen and trying to adjust to being an adult. Like some of the teens in the program, my parents and I are going through the battle of separation. Because I will be graduating from high school this year and then moving off to college in the fall, my parents are having a hard time of letting go just yet.
I am at the stage to where I am ready to be on my own, although at times, I want to try and squeeze in as much adolescent time as possible before I am fully considered an adult. Also, I have recently been through all the changes mentioned above. At times all I want to do is sleep; it is as if I can never get enough. Thankfully though, I am now almost out of the strange behaviors and am able to control my emotions; well most of the time at least. My parents have successfully made it through raising one teenage girl with two more to go. It is easy to say that by the time my youngest sister becomes a teen they will be pro’s.