If I Only Had A Brain

Why do teens love high-octane movies? Why are they charming one minute and sullen the next? There are many possible answers but one of them is this: a teenager’s brain works differently than an adult’s does.

Neuroscientists have monitored the brains of teenagers and adults viewing ordinary pictures. The scans showed that the most active part of the adult brain when viewing pictures was the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is the area of the brain used in higher thought functions such as logic and reasoning.

When the teens viewed the same pictures a different area of their brains got activated. They were processing the photos using a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is in the emotional center of the brain – the part activated by strong emotions like fear or aggression. Input from one’s eyes and ears can go directly to the amygdala without first being processed by the frontal cortex. The result is an instant, emotional response.

This difference in the way the brain works can give rise to communication difficulties between adults and teens. An off-hand comment from dad could cause an inexplicably emotional response in his daughter. Or seemingly clear directions from mom could be misinterpreted by a son who thinks he did nothing wrong.

In addition, the parts of the brain that support self-control and rational judgment don’t develop fully in human beings until we reach our early twenties, but the parts of the brain that support the emotions and risk-taking are up and running in adolescence. Short and simple: emotion rules!

The romance, fear, excitement, and pleasure centers are already responsive in teens. This helps explain why horror movies, emotive music, depression, embarrassment, suicide, and adventure have the role they do in the lives of teens and why they gradually lose force as a teen matures.

Having said all that, good behavior does not depend on having an adult brain. It depends on having good role models and loving formation into the right behavior, something grandparents can do especially well.


Mike Shaughnessy is the Executive Director of Grandly and the Editor of the Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter.

Copyright © 2017 Grandly – The Strategic Grandparents Club.

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