Often overlooked, the teenage brain undergoes one of its most important and significant developments – some argue more significant than early childhood – the remodelling of the child brain into the adult brain and the emergence of the Abstract Thinking Developmental Stage (Piaget). Adolescents begin to think outside the box, think more logically and think more about their future. Remodelling of the brain involves pruning away unneeded childhood grey matter, while strengthening new connections. The use it or lose it saying applies here as the brain prunes away connections no longer needed, and reinforces new connections based on new and current environmental experiences. The teenager’s preferred activities begin to be hardwired into the brain.
The pruning starts from the back of the brain, and works slowly forward with the prefrontal cortex being the last to develop, sometimes into the 30th year of life. The prefrontal cortex is the brains planning, organising and reasoning centre. So the contrast between “mature” back of the brain skills and the “immature” under-developed prefrontal cortex can make parents wonder how their child can switch from being mature to being childlike so quickly.
As a substitute to the prefrontal cortex, teenagers are left to rely on their fight or flight centre of the brain (the Amygdala) to make decisions and solve problems. This can explain teenager’s intense emotions, aggression, impulsivity and preference for risk taking behaviour.
Tips and strategies to support this time in an adolescent’s life: