makes the adolescent brain so challenging to the adult
brain? Anyone who has ever tried to parent, teach
or mentor the adolescent brain knows it can create
some frustrating moments. A lot of this frustration
can be blamed on some of the biology unique to the
any aged brain, the region responsible for basic survival
needs (eat, flight/fight, sex) are handled by a region
known as the hypothalamus. For obvious reason, the
hypothalamus is powerful, influential and ready to
function right from birth. Biologically speaking,
if this area was not given top priority, the animal
may not survive for long.
of the frustrations with adolescents is due to the
fact that hormones, environment, and learning, make
this survival region of the brain a "hot area" in
addition, the basic survival drives of the hypothalamus
don't always agree with the social structure, morals
and safety of society. For the more "civilized" human
behaviors we need to involve higher regions of the
brain. Higher brain regions, in the cortex, can override
the hypothalamus. Although these regions are not given
biological priority, they are the "logical" parts
of the brain and are responsible for deciding when
basic hypothalamus drives may not be in our best long-term
region called the prefrontal cortex plays the role
of arbitrator in making these critical decisions.
It quickly sizes up the situation and makes a determination
which then drives our behavior. It is the prefrontal
cortex then that tells us when to act on our anger,
or curtail it, eat that second piece of dessert, or
go without, seek immediate gratification or hold off
for the long term.
Unfortunately some people have a poorly developed
or poorly functioning prefrontal cortex. These people
have a hard time controlling impulsive behaviors.
Head trauma, alcohol and drug abuse as well as possible
genetic predispositions can all lead to a dysfunctional
prefrontal cortex. Maturity also plays a big role
as this area takes about 20 years to fully develop.
Hence, adolescents may have problems quickly sizing
up risks and making good long-term decisions.
biological factors make adolescent brains even more
hypothalamus driven. Children learn what to do with
anger by watching other people in their sphere of
influence and what they do when they are angry. Peer-influence
peaks during the teen-age years which means that key
role models for an adolescent are other adolescents.
hormone, oxytocin, found in the brain during romantic
relationships, tends to settle and stimulate the hypothalamus
during the beginning stages of the relationship. Anyone
working with adolescents knows that they are always
in the midst of "new love", which only further hampers
logical decision making.
adolescents appear to have at least 3 strikes against
them when it comes to using logic to weigh the risks
in dangerous or sometimes even everyday types of decisions.
The more primitive regions of their brains are strong
and tend to drive behaviors. The immature region responsible
for the logic of long-term benefits does not always
override the impulsive, survival-oriented hypothalamus.
Add any additional trauma to the mix such as abusive
households or drug and alcohol use and the issue becomes
even more severe.
The biology of brain shows that adolescents still
need strong adult guidance and help with decision
making throughout the teen-age years . Time and good
role models will fortunately allow the brain to eventually
mature to match the body.