Inside the Teenage Brain

Good news!

During the past year or so, science has shared some welcome information – your brain is growing!

As recently as 1996, a Newsweek article reported that most brain growth occurred during our first two years of life, and was pretty much over by age 4. Then in January, 2000, the New York Times reported research from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Southern California showing that major neuron growth continued through age 5 or 6. The next month, Newsweek's Sharon Begley reported exciting findings by Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health: MRI studies of teenage brains showed a dramatic second growth spurt in brain development, caused by those same hormones that gave puberty a bad name! Starting around age 10 to 12, your mental powers get a second chance to expand throughout the teen years. What does all this mean to you?

The quality of your experiences actually develops your brain; your environment will determine your abilities. But it's not simply an expansion of capacity; information and experience you judge as not important is "strained out" and only data meaningful to you is kept. Associations are crucial; new experiences, in order to be used, must be connected to previous ones. You must think about what comes your way.

Early experiences impact on later abilities; intelligence is not "fixed" by age 2. At puberty, your physical and emotional development create "windows" or prime times for learning. Typically, these are the middle school and high school years. All along, your emotions strongly impact on learning skills. Motivation and positive feelings help you learn; stress and negative feelings will hinder your learning.

You have many "intelligences," far more than simply an IQ. Examples:

  • Linguistic or verbal, used by speakers, writers, readers, listeners.

  • Logical-mathematical, used by scientists, reasoners, lawyers, researchers.

  • Spatial, needed by engineers, surgeons, sculptors, painters, crafts persons.

  • Musical, found in musicians, composers, dancers, actors.

  • Kinesthetic, crucial for athletes, performers, crafts persons, builders.

  • Interpersonal, key for sellers, leaders, teachers, service workers.

  • Intra-personal, used for understanding self and others, feeling empathy.

  • No one has the same pattern of these varying abilities; look around you!

  • And no test measures them all; school exams and college admissions tests measure just the first two.

Dr. Giedd concludes, "Teens have the power to determine (the direction of) their own brain development ­ whether they do art or music or sports or videogames or books, those brain structures are adapted accordingly." (And by inference, those structures not stimulated may be pruned away for allow for the growth areas.)

Let's get specific. The NIMH studies in the Feb. 28, 2000 Newsweek note:

Brain size may stabilize by age 5 but brain growth and change continues through the teen years in differing ways. Nerve cells aiding intelligence, consciousness, and self-awareness keep growing even into a person's 20s. Frontal lobes that aid self-control, judgment, emotional maturity, and organizing and planning ability grow again, starting at about age 10 for girls, 12 for boys. Puberty stimulates brain focusing ­ abilities expand if stimulated or shrink if neglected. Each part of the brain improves in different ways. The parietal lobes controlling sight, sound, and speech, the interconnecting circuits, the temporal lobes that control language and emotions, the hippocampus that creates memories, and the amygdala controlling fear and anger mature with androgen, a male hormone.

Second chance?

"From birth through the late teens, the brain adds billions of new cells, building new circuits of freshly made neurons as teenagers interact with their environments." (New York Times)

"Maturity is not simply a matter of slipping 'software' (learning) into existing equipment it as nature's way of giving us a second chance!" (NIMH)

How can you put this exciting new opportunity to work for you? Try asking yourself:

  • How do I spend my mental time and energy at the present time?

  • Which reasoning skills am I therefore building the most?

  • Which brain cells are being pruned away or "strained out" by neglect?

  • How am I selecting what I think about?

  • How much time and energy do I actually focus on my mental growth skills?

  • What effect will these choices have on my future success in college? In my career? In life itself?

  • Can you spot places where change will benefit your future?


More by :  Karishma D

Top | Teens

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