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Michelle Gottlieb Psy.D., MFT, LPCC
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The Teen Brain

June 2009

Have you ever looked at your teenage as he or she comes rushing into the house, late again and missing their homework/coat/whatever it is you asked them to get and asked them “what were you thinking?” Have you ever asked that same question when you have caught them with their boyfriend or girlfriend? And again that same question when you found out that they snuck out of the house?

So, here is the bottom line: they weren’t thinking. They certainly weren’t thinking the way you and I, as adults think. Their brains won’t let them. Teen brains are going through very extreme changes. The most extreme since they were toddlers. These brains are making the change from children’s brains to adult brains, and in the process they are driving everyone nuts!

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that adults use to help us make thoughtful, logical decisions. That part of the brain doesn’t really come on line until a teen is about 16 years old, or older. The teen is working from a much more primitive part of the brain that reacts on a purely emotional level. You can see that from the decisions that they male. Teens will focus on what feels good rather that what is good for them. Teen brains are also pruning connections that the brain has deemed as unnecessary. Therefore the brain is learning to use different connections. These brains are not working well. Do not expect them to!

Realizing all of this, however, does give your teen cart blanche to run wild. This is a time of great learning and you n eed to be right there with them setting boundaries and guiding them along a healthy path. Set limits for your kids. Teach them to make good decisions. Help them to understand consequences. But, just like when they were just starting to walk and you didn’t expect them to be running yet, realize that these teen brains are just learning to think. Allow them to make mistakes. Allow them to learn. Allow them to make connections.

While this article may not make raising your teen any easier; hopefully, it will help you to understand what they are going through just a bit more. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

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