A friend of mine, the mother of four, once said that if she could make a wish it would be for a machine to hold children in suspended animation until they get through puberty, and we could educate them through headphones. It was a joke, but many parents of teens feel this is a great idea!

Some things young people do seem crazy and reckless to adults. They are more aggressive, temperamental, and don’t seem to think before they act. It’s as if they think totally different from an adult. Surprise! They actually do!

According to recent studies this behavior is due to an under-developed brain, and until they are young adults adolescents process information differently from adults. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery) scans have shown that the brain continues to mature and develop throughout childhood and teens, and even into early adulthood.

Researchers have localized the amygdale, located deep within the temporal lobes, as responsible for instinctual reactions. This area develops early. The frontal cortex area of the brain, where a mature adult processes their information, does not develop until later.

According to research done by scientists at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) , our brains experience a rapid burst of synapse (connections) from birth until around 18 months, another wave at puberty, and still another during the teen years. These changes are important for the development of coordinated thought, action and behavior.

For ten years, every two years as they grew up, researchers scanned the same 13 healthy children using an intricate MRI system and anatomical landmarks. They studied the ebb and flow of neurons and connections in the brain and made a movie showing brain maturation from ages 5-20.They found that such “higher-order” brain centers, such as the prefrontal cortex, don’t fully develop until young adulthood.

What they found was the extreme front and back areas of the brain are the first areas to mature. That area processes movement and senses. The  parietal lobes, responsible for spatial orientation and langue, are next. The last portion of the brain to develop is the “high-functioning” area, the prefrontal cortex, that processes reasoning.

By contrast, autistic children show an abnormal back-to-front wave of gray matter increases, rather than decreases, suggesting “a specific faulty step in early development.” Their research also indicated that normal brain development during adolescence can change through fetal alcohol syndrome, head trauma, exposure to drugs and tobacco, and head trauma.

Young people are capable of making good decisions, and know the difference between right and wrong so they can be held accountable for their own behavior. It does not excuse recklessness, but it does explain it.

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion.



Medical News Today – Brain’s Center of Reasoning and Problem Solving is Last to Mature: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/8410.ph

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – The Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving and Decision Making: http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_teen_brain_behavior_problem_solving_and_decision_making