Current research indicates that the brain is primed for rapid learning and development in Adolescence. These same conditions also make the teenage brain at higher risk of impulsive behavior, irritability and making mistakes.
While the teenage brain may be slowing down a bit from the learning curve exhibited in earlier childhood years, the rate of formation of connections (synapses) is still in high gear. More importantly, this is also the time when the “pruning” or trimming of unused cells and their connections takes place. “Use it or lose it” has never been truer.
Additionally, the development of the brain takes place at different times, According to BrainFacts.org, “The frontal lobe, the brain’s self-control and judgment center, is the last to complete development, concluding sometime in the mid- to late-20s.”
Along with this neural growth come changes in sleep patterns. The Mayo Clinic notes “Before adolescence, the circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy, often until 11 p.m. or later” As a result, very few teens actually get the needed 9 hour of sleep.
Another area where teenage brain growth impacts all our lives is in driving. BrainFacts.org, reports that “studies suggest that unlike older drivers, who were not affected by additional passengers, younger drivers make riskier decisions in the presence of their peers. Other research shows teen brains work harder to assess whether a scenario is dangerous, showing increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This greater effort translated into longer reaction times, which could lead to trouble behind the wheel.”
In the coming week we will take a more in-depth look at the prefrontal cortex and the young adult years