Friday, December 08, 2006

Why Do They Act That Way? A Guide to the Teenage Brain

The most informative workshop I attended at the ISACS Conference, November 2006


Why Do They Act That Way? A Guide to the Teenage Brain
Presenter: David Walsh
Author: Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen
Suggested website:

Adult brain and brain of middle schooler about same size (3 pounds) BUT teenage/adolescent brain is a "major construction zone" until about age 20!

Prefrontal cortex (the brain’s CEO) responsible for
-considering consequences
-managing emotions (impulses and urges)

Inefficient (less mature) prefrontal cortex leads to behavior that may be described as
-risk taking
-conflict seeking

[Humorous aside: Curfew is a surrogate pre-frontal cortex!]

Effects of hormones on boys
- Seven surges of testosterone a day that stimulate the amygdale (the anger and aggression center)
- “easy going 10 year old becomes fire breathing dragon at 13; surges of anger come seemingly from nowhere!” Prefrontal cortex is supposed to provide emotional regulation but it’s “under construction.”

Effects of hormones on girls
Ebb and flow of progesterone and estrogen

- impacts neurotransmitters – chemicals in synapses

-affects dopamine: feel good

- serotonin: mood stabilizer, relaxation, confidence

- norepinephrine: aggression, energy

With all of the changes and mood swings, it’s not unusual for a girl to complain that someone yelled at her or that she “hates her life” because the calming influence of the pre-frontal cortex is not available to help with “reality checks” and regulation.

Characteristics of adolescents due to hormone changes triggering the amygdala (anger and aggression center) along with immature prefrontal cortex (“the circuit to manage emotions")

- "Gas pedal to the floor"
- "Brakes on back order"
- Passionate
- Loyal

Interpretation of non-verbal clues (tone of voice; movement stance; facial expression; etc.)
In the adult brain, interpretation of non-verbal clues takes place in pre-frontal cortex.
In the adolescent/teen brain, this takes place in the amygdala (center for anger and aggression)
From Dr. Walsh: “Anger center in high gear; impulse control is out to lunch!”

How to calm the potential chaos:
Teens and adolescents need to make connections with caring adults. Build goodwill. Establish a positive base to fall back on during harder times.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Alcohol and Drugs and the Teenage Brain

The teenage brain is a more easily addictive brain. The teenage brain has additional receptors for addictive chemicals (more receptors that need to be filled) eventually needing more addictive chemicals to keep up and plummeting without!

The hippocampus closes when alcohol increases. The hippocampus is the gateway to memory and excessive alcohol can create permanent shrinkage.

Signals indicating being affected by the chemicals go off sooner in the adult brain than in the less mature teen brain. So teens may be filling these receptors to the point of alcohol poisoning before getting an internal signal that they’ve had enough.

1 comment:

Will Piper said...

This is very interesting stuff... I am reading a book called "Connecting Leadership to the Brain" right now for a class. It seems like there is so much new information that people are learning about the brain these days.