We all sense that teen thinking is different than adult thinking. We blame it on hormones and that is partially true. The bigger factor is a process the brain goes through called “neural pruning”. This is a period of brain development when neurons that haven’t been used are pruned away and the ones remaining will be developed into the adult brain. During this developmental period the “thinking brain” is under construction” and the “emotional” brain is in charge. This is just a phase, like all other childhood phases, so fear not, this period will end all on its own. In the meantime, be available to talk to them about their own biology and keep them safe!
Here are some passages from the book Soul of the Child by Michael Gurian. I show these as direct quotes but I have changed some of the wording for a better flow.
“In adolescents there is a process of renovation that occurs in the brain beginning at about 10 years old but the house itself is not razed during this time. It’s more like this- a lot of the furniture and many of the walls inside the self get replaced .We might say in the context of light development that the location of Lamps overhead and lights shining in the house change. These new changes will last into adolescence.This renovation is called pruning. Nerve cells and avenues continue to be used but those that have not been tended to get pruned away. Areas in the frontal lobe, which are especially crucial for judgment, insight, and planning can get pruned away So if your child is not prodded to develop good judgment, working towards these activities are some of the most important in your child’s development of individuality and maturity. When the child’ brain is pruning,the body will begin secreting doses of hormones.”
“During adolescence- one amazing fact we’ve recently learned- is that at least half the neural connections in the prefrontal cortex, which is like the air traffic controller for persons brain, are obliterated by hormonal intrusion for months and even years during adolescence. During decision-making the brain has to rely on the limbic system and other parts of the brain that handle emotional reactions, so when you notice adolescents taking extra risks, making bad decisions, getting into addictions, being overly emotional, you’re noticing this obliteration of the prefrontal cortex.”
“The brain after transition regains a new full circuitry and the adult decision maker shows through. We have to be vigilant guides during this time providing clear supervision, limits and expectations. We are helping them avoid the chaotic emotional reactions that can be part of an unsupervised adolescents life.”
“The last developmental step is myelination of cells in the brain at around 20.The brain completes its development with a gooey white substance that quickens every transmission and hardens the brain during adulthood. Cells continue to grow throughout life but at a much slower pace than during adolescence and child growth.”
“Modern life moves too fast for a lot of our children’s brains and they suffer from overstimulation. Not only abuse and neglect, but overstimulation increases cortisol levels. Our kids are literally in over their heads. No wonder the rates of brain disorders among children have skyrocketed in the last 30 years. Millions now suffer from ADD, dyslexia, bulimia, anorexia and depression.”
I would add anxiety to the list. KF