The Teenage Brain

Have you ever wondered what is going through the mind of a long boarder as he careers down a busy suburban road? Doesn’t he value his life? Doesn’t he care about his safety? Recent scientific research offers an explanation. It suggests that his desire for a reward – the thrill of the ride and the cheers of his friends, outweighs the risk of falling off the board or being hit by a car.

American neuroscientist, B. J. Casey from Cornell University has conducted studies which show that as your teenager grows, two different parts of his brain develop at different rates. The area of the brain responsible for emotion and motivation – the sub cortical region, develops ahead of the area of the brain that controls decision making and inhibition of impulses – the prefrontal cortex. This means there is a period developmentally when your teenager assesses the gains he obtains from taking risks more favourably than the possible dangers and consequences of his actions. Take the recent tragic story of a 17 year old boy who was electrocuted in Caulfield, Melbourne while train surfing after boasting about it to his friends on facebook. He had been drinking with friends before the incident. This is an extreme example of risk taking. More common, is the teenager who wants to play rugby with an injured ankle, drive fast on a deserted road or drink to excess.

By having an adventurous nature, it may also make your teenager more willing to face the risks that come with gaining independence and moving out of home. In the animal world, when a mammal becomes sexually mature, it needs to leave its parents and the family nest and strike out on its own – find food and a place in the world of adults. With the added advantage of a longer, more protected childhood, your teenager similarly must adapt to his adult world. Expertise comes with experience so he must practise the skills he needs to survive. You can help him as a parent during this adolescent phase by guiding him with a light but steady hand, allowing him independence – stay connected with what he is doing. Let him go to your work and do photocopying, paper shredding or helping out in the mailroom. Skills learnt from babysitting, cooking dinner for the family and helping an old neighbour mow the lawn, act as an apprenticeship into adulthood.

This information is based on the article published in the Weekend Australian (11 February 2012) taken from the Wall Street Journal (28 January 2012) and the article published in National Geographic (October 2011). The articles  are based on scientific research conducted by American neuroscientist, B. J. Casey at Cornell University.


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