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Inside the High Schooler’s Brain - what insights can neuroscience offer parents?

Posted: Tue, July 16, 2013 | By:

By Hank Pellissier

The high schooler’s brain “OMG! When my parents tell me to be careful, I’m like LOL! Then I do whatever my BFFs do . . .” Why are teenagers insane? Why is it that high-schoolers who are brilliant enough to check-mate us in ten measured moves can’t remember to walk the dog before running off for a night of reckless lunacy with their maniacal friends? By 16, our children have attained adult ability in logic, so what’s their excuse, neurologically?

Frances E. Jensen, MD, Senior Associate in Neurology at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School’s primary teaching hospital notes that adolescent brains are, “about 80 percent of the way to maturity.” This may sound reassuring, but that half-baked 20 percent can launch moms and dads into spasms of despair. A large percentage of the final fifth still in development is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the “executive” of cognitive functioning. The PFC is involved in planning, organizing, impulse suppression, and weighing consequences. Remove this inhibitory center, toss in excitable hormones, and presto! You get a risk-taking, peer-pressured mammal that’s hungry for novelty, thrills, intensity, and romance. At the dark end of this equation there are fast cars, alcohol, drugs, and unsafe sex in multiple, nerve-wracking combinations. During this traumatic time for our darlings (and ourselves), parents need to do their best to be exemplary guides, offering often-ignored support, love, and advice. That’s why it’s helpful to know, anatomically, what’s occurring in the high schooler’s evolving noggin, and how best to accommodate the cranial crises. Here are some explanations and tips:

Photo credit: amus P

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