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Teenage years. Remember yours? Have you raised teenagers? Are you now? The teen brain goes through an incredible growth period on its way to full maturity. I want to share some information on this phenomenon so that a greater understanding may lead to some enlightenment and possible behavior change relative to teens.

Dr.  Frances E. Jensen, professor of neurology, states that for teens, “it’s a paradoxical time of development. … young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teen brains easily influenced by their environment and are more prone to impulsive behavior.”

Dr. Jensen further notes that the human brain is about 80 percent complete up to the teenage years, much of it during the first two or three years of life. It is not fully developed until the mid- to late 20s. The part that is not developed in teenagers is the frontal lobe. It is the part of the brain that controls decision-making and risk-taking. Impulse control, judgment and empathy are areas of later development. Jensen states that it is important “to understand the biochemical imperatives that make teens and young adults so emotional and unpredictable, as well as leaving them more vulnerable to addiction and mental disorders.”

While the frontal lobe lags in development, the limbic area of the brain is on fire. This is the seat of risk-reward, impulsivity, sexual behavior, and emotion. Novelty seeking is usually an aspect in this period of growth. The limbic system is twice as activated in teens as it is in children and adults.

The teenage years are a time in which a teenager is to begin the process of being an independent person. It is the challenge of the parent to be present, without invading or smothering, and guide the teenager forward into adulthood. The teen is moving away from parents and is seriously seeking social acceptance from his/her peers. What kind of people a teen chooses as peers is crucial for the positive or negative direction of the teen.

In terms of guidance, positive immediate reinforcement/reward, works better than punishment for impacting a teens behavior. Teenagers want a connection with their parents only at certain self absorbed times – and the parent needs to be there. Not easy!

This focus on the teenage brain is meant to assist you, Respected Reader, to better understand the “crazy” thinking, feeling, and acting out YOU did as a teenager. Or, it may help you understand more of your teenage kids, past and present.

The teen years are some of the most impactful of all years. How a teen flourishes or struggles during this period will determine much of his/her future as an adult.

Dr. Stathas can be reached at 706-473-1780. Email: jstathas13@gmail.com. Website: drstathas.googlepages.com. Blog: drstathas.com

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