It really is true, dudes. Your teenager really does have only half a brain. And guess who gets to be the other half? Not really a question there. It’s us. Wheeee!
I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: young dudes and dudettes have brains. No, really. It’s true. The problem comes in that they’re not fully developed. For a long, long time.
This from a recent column by Lisa Duran, a retired high-school guidance counselor, and trauma and grief specialist.
Dr. Jeffery Georgi, a consulting associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, gave a six-hour presentation as training for trauma and loss therapists at the Trauma and Loss in Children Institute’s national assembly in July. Dr. Georgi’s specialty is adolescent brain research — specifically, how the brain handles substance abuse and trauma.
Dr. Georgi and other researchers have shown that the brain has two periods of major neuron growth: the second trimester in utero and between the ages of 6 and 10.
However, during adolescence, the brain — which weighs 3 pounds and contains over 150 billion (yes, with a “b”) neurons — actually streamlines itself and weeds out excess. It is developing cleaner and more direct pathways, which make it a more efficient and effective working organ.
Dopamine, the brain’s neurotransmitter that is involved in pleasure-seeking behavior, and that Georgi calls the novelty-seeking neurotransmitter, is going wild during this time of pruning and rewiring. Which might go a long way toward explaining things like thinking it’s a good idea to jump off a roof holding only an umbrella. And, no, that’s not a cliché. It’s experience.
This means that adolescents are driven to seek novelty and activity and, yes, pleasure. But they also are driven to learn.
Many teachers and parents will argue vehemently with that last statement, but it’s true. Teenagers are driven to learn. Maybe not what we want them to learn, but they are driven to seek activity, novelty, pleasure and learning.
That really is true. The problem comes in when we realize that, left alone, they’re going to be learning killer new moves in that video game, or how to sneak a bong into their room. That is, they’ll be learning stuff we don’t want them to learn.
That’s why we, as parents, need to be there to guide them into learning useful things (like how much fun it is taking out the garbage), or at least things that won’t actively harm them. And we need to do that sort of thing for a long while.
Brain research also clearly shows that this marvelous organ grows and develops from the back to the front, and the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is where judgment, evaluation, decision-making, impulse control and a bunch of other great stuff that we consider “mature” is housed. This prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the age of 25.
Yep, we got a long way to go. Doesn’t that sound like fun?