Why the Adolescent Brain Works So Differently

Most of us look back on our teenage days with fondness, but for most of us this stage in between child and adult was the most challenging years of our life. It is no surprise considering that the teenage brain is structured entirely different meaning they do not think the same as adults, as their brain has yet to make the connections it will later in life.

It is the lack of neuronal connections connecting the frontal lobe to the rest of the brain that characterises a key teenage trait – not being able to think ahead. The frontal lobe of our brain is responsible for attention span, impulses, and motivation. This explains the teenage habit of acting recklessly; experimenting with drugs, and acting irrationally. 

Graph Teenage Crime

Crime rates peak during teenage years

Our grey matter, responsible for the storage of information, matures between the ages of 11 and 12. However, the white matter that is responsible for building the connections in our brains is not fully developed until we are in our early twenties.

The way teenagers process information often does not reflect how an adult would understand something, meaning that communication issues between teenagers and adults are not a result of stubbornness, but resulting from different thought patterns. Researchers at the McLean Hospital (Massachusetts) showed teenagers and adults a series of faces displaying emotion. The answers between the two groups were dramatically different – teenagers were more likely to identify a person showing fear, to be showing anger.

Brain chemistry fluctuates in adolescents, particularly in response to pleasurable feelings. This means they are susceptible to the ‘high’ after a pleasurable experience, which is part of the reason teenagers are so influenced by others.

This new understanding of the adolescent brain could further our efforts to decrease teenage crime rates.

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