Monday, May 16, 2022

What Changes Occur In The Brain During The Teenage Years

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Teens Need More Sleep Than Children And Adults

How Does the Brain Change During Adolescence?

Research shows that melatonin levels in the blood are naturally higher later at night and drop later in the morning in teens than in most children and adults. This difference may explain why many teens stay up late and struggle with getting up in the morning. Teens should get about 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, but most teens do not get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention, may increase impulsivity, and may increase the risk for irritability or depression.

The Prefrontal Cortex And Teen Brain Development

The brain develops in a back-to-front pattern. Hence, prefrontal cortex development is the last part of the brain maturation process. As a result, teen brain development is not yet complete.

Lack of frontal lobe maturity catalyzes a variety of teen behaviors. Thats because the prefrontal cortex is involved with a wide range of functions, known as executive functions. These include the following:

  • Complex decision-making
  • Prioritizing competing information received all at once
  • The ability to ignore external distractions.

Therefore, children and teenagers are unable to access certain skills and abilities until later in the frontal lobe development process. Consequently, lack of executive functions can result in teen risky behavior. And lack of emotional self-regulation skills can affect teen mental health. Moreover, teens are also dealing with hormones as a result of puberty.

The Teen Brain: 6 Things To Know From The National Institute Of Mental Health

For girls, the brain reaches its largest physical size around 11 years old and for boys, the brain reaches its largest physical size around age 14. Of course, this difference in age does not mean either boys or girls are smarter than one another!

But that doesnt mean your brain is done maturing

For both boys and girls, although your brain may be as large as it will ever be, your brain doesnt finish developing and maturing until your mid- to late-20s. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature. It is the area responsible for planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses.

The teen brain is ready to learn and adapt

In a digital world that is constantly changing, the adolescent brain is well prepared to adapt to new technologyand is shaped in return by experience.

Many mental disorders appear during adolescence

All the big changes the brain is experiencing may explain why adolescence is the time when many mental disorderssuch as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disordersemerge.

The teen brain is resilient

Although adolescence is a vulnerable time for the brain and for teenagers in general, most teens go on to become healthy adults. Some changes in the brain during this important phase of development actually may help protect against long-term mental disorders.

Teens need more sleep than children and adults

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The Teen Years: Brain Development And Trauma Recovery

From Adoptalk 2019, Issue 1 Adoptalk is a benefit of NACAC membership.

Adapted by Anna Libertin, NACACs communications specialist, from a webinar by Kim Stevens.

Kim Stevens is a program manager at NACAC who specializes in post-adoption support, youth development, training for caregivers, and trauma and healing. She is also the adoptive parent of four children from foster care. Kim presented The Teen Years: Brain Development, Impact of Trauma on Growth, and Parenting Strategies Webinar, a webinar for NACAC that included the tips below. View this webinar and others by experts in the field here.

The capacity to care, share, listen, value, and be empathetic develops from being cared for, shared with, listened to, valued, and nurtured.

Dr. Bruce Perry

Teens who have experienced adoption or foster care have faced a lot of change: healing from trauma, coping with major life transitions, developing new routines, and experiencing pubertyjust to name a few. As parents and caregivers, our role is to provide young adults with a safe space to explore, stumble, and succeed in this time of self-discovery by developing parenting strategies that prioritize family connection and establish trust.

The Evolutionary Advantage Of The Teenage Brain

Lifespan Psychology Lecture 5.1
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Research is showing that the behaviors of teenagers arent just there to annoy parents. They serve a real evolutionary purpose.

Teens. OMG. What on earth is going on inside their brains to make them act so, well, like crazy teenagers?

The mood swings, the fiery emotions, the delusions of immortality, all the things that make a teenager a teenager might just seem like a phase we all have to put up with. However, research increasingly shows that the behaviors of teenagers arent just there to annoy parents, they serve a real evolutionary purpose.

Each episode explores a groundbreaking idea and the brilliant UC minds behind it.

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Teens Often ‘think With Their Feelings’

Experiments have been done to show that teens often ‘think with their feelings’. Scans of the brain can be done to show different parts lighting up when they are being used. When adults and teens look at faces showing different emotions, the part of their brains that light up are different. Adults use their prefrontal cortex to look at faces and try to decide what emotion is happening. Teenagers use their amygdala rather than their prefrontal cortex most of the time. In other words, they are using their emotions to try and understand emotion.

It Helps If Adults Can Understand How This Feels For Teens

To understand how this feels, imagine you have lost your keys and you are already late for work. Think about how many times you look for the keys in the same place – 5, 10 even 20 times. You panic – you no longer think with your cortex, you are thinking with your emotions. Remember how it feels if someone tells you to calm down and think sensibly about when you last had them. That is how your teenager feels when they are running on their emotions because their brain hasn’t developed that linkage.

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Why Does The Brain Take So Long To Develop

Human beings are the only animals that are born completely helpless, and we have the biggest size of adult brain. If we were born with an adult-sized brain our heads would not fit through our mothers’ hips. Brain development that continues after birth also helps us better adapt to our living environment and increases our chance of survival.

We used to think that once children had gone through puberty and growth had finished, development was complete. Then MRI scanners were invented and they showed that the brain goes on changing for a long time after puberty has finished, and may not be complete until nearly 30 years of age.

The following image shows that the brain doesn’t change much in size between 5 and 20 years of age. What changes is the colour. The blue colour shows all the connections happening between all the parts of the brain that are already formed.

The Stages Of Teen Brain Development And Beyond

Understanding the teenage brain

The last two stages of brain development occur after gestation. In fact, some types of brain changes continue through adulthood.

Organization begins at six months of gestation and continues well after birth. In this stage, neurons fully develop. Thus, each neuron includes

  • A cell body
  • An axona nerve fiber that sends signals from the cell body to other neurons
  • Dendriteshundreds of short branches that receive signals from other neurons.

The communication between axons and dendrites are called synapses. And new synapses can continue to form throughout a persons life. Therefore, teen brain development includes the formation of new synapses.

Myelination begins at six months of gestation and continues into adulthood. Hence, in this stage, the glial cells produce myelin. Myelin is a fatty covering that helps neural connections occur more efficiently.

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Change Can Feel Kind Of Strange

Just as those hormones create changes in the way your body looks on the outside, they also create changes on the inside. While your body is adjusting to all the new hormones, so is your mind. During puberty, you might feel confused or have strong emotions that you’ve never experienced before. You may feel anxious about how your changing body looks.

You might feel overly sensitive or become easily upset. Some teens lose their tempers more than usual and get angry at their friends or families.

Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with all of these new emotions. Usually people aren’t trying to hurt your feelings or upset you on purpose. It might not be your family or friends making you angry it might be your new “puberty brain” trying to adjust. And while the adjustment can feel difficult in the beginning, it will gradually become easier. It can help to talk to someone and share the burden of how you’re feeling a friend or, even better, a parent, older sibling, or adult who’s gone through it all before.

You might have new, confusing feelings about sex and lot of questions. The adult hormones estrogen and testosterone are signals that your body is giving you new responsibilities, like the ability to create a child. That’s why it’s important to get all your questions answered.

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It Doesn’t Hurt It’s Just A Growth Spurt

“Spurt” is the word used to describe a short burst of activity, something that happens in a hurry. And a growth spurt is just that: Your body is growing, and it’s happening really fast! When you enter puberty, it might seem like your sleeves are always getting shorter and your pants always look like you’re ready for a flood that’s because you’re experiencing a major growth spurt. It lasts for about 2 to 3 years. When that growth spurt is at its peak, some people grow 4 or more inches in a year.

This growth during puberty will be the last time your body grows taller. After that, you will be at your adult height. But your height isn’t the only thing that will be changing.

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Brain Changes During Adolescence

During adolescence, brain cells continue to bloom in the frontal region. Some of the most developmentally significant changes in the brain occur in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making and cognitive control, as well as other higher cognitive functions. During adolescence, myelination and synaptic pruning in the prefrontal cortex increases, improving the efficiency of information processing, and neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and other regions of the brain are strengthened. However, this growth takes time, and the growth is uneven.

Adolescence Trauma And The Brain

Brain development in childhood and adolescence

The brain dictates all of human behavior, from automatic responses like breathing to making small talk or laughing at jokes. So understanding how to build connections with teens requires understanding how age and past experiences can alter a brain over a lifetimeand how those brain changes affect behavior.

In adolescence, for example, the brain undergoes significant changes that affect a teens understanding of self and the world around them. As teens move into adulthood, they face increased independence, more intimate relationships, challenging and significant decisions, and other major life transitions. The brain is trying to prepare for this through:

These changes, and many more, are biological and occur regardless of a childs background. However, trauma, abuse, neglect, major life transitions, and other past experiences or environments contribute to how the brain develops during the crucial period, as the brain calls upon familiar behaviors or frequently used parts of the brain to determine what areas of the brain to strengthen and what areas to weaken in this mental growth spurt.

Trauma and adolescence work together to interfere with a childs sense of self and relationship, and the key to effective treatment and intervention is building and rebuilding connection.

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Putting The Pu In Puberty

A lot of teens notice that they have a new smell under their arms and elsewhere on their bodies when they enter puberty, and it’s not a pretty one. That smell is body odor, and everyone gets it. As you enter puberty, the puberty hormones affect glands in your skin, and the glands make chemicals that smell bad. These chemicals put the scent in adolescent!

So what can you do to feel less stinky? Well, keeping clean is a good way to lessen the smell. You might want to take a shower every day, either in the morning before school, or the night before. Using deodorant every day can help keep body odor in check, too.

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Physiologic Changes In Teen Brains

If an adult sees an angry person coming toward them, multiple areas of their brain will turn on, including the limbic system, which is a group of brain cells deep inside the brain that begin the emotional process. Adults then show activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead. This area helps make decisions, and it also uses better judgment. The amygdala located deep in the brain also plays a role in emotions.

Adolescent brains morph as they grow. As areas mature, they build connections some areas of the brain disconnect, and they get trimmed away. Teens do not show activity in their prefrontal cortex. Adolescents react with the limbic system in emotional situations, but the prefrontal cortex is not well-developed at this time. Therefore, teens often react emotionally, and they take risks.

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Whatphysical Changes Take Place In An Adolescents Brain How Do Thesechanges Affect The Individuals Behavior And Thought Process

-Through MRI imaging, researchers of the adolescent brain discovered that there was a large production of gray matter in the frontal cortex just before puberty began and a decrease during adolescence. They found that the synapses most used grew stronger in the teenagers brain, while the ones not used frequently begin to prune away. These changes mainly focused on the brains prefrontal cortex, the area used for higher functioning, such as planning, decision making, emotional control, impulse control, etc. This process occurs much more slowly than once thought. The changes begin earlier in development closest to the brain stem in the rear of the brain, where the most basic functions begin to mature. Throughout adolescence, this process then moves slowly to areas of higher, more complicated functioning, and ends with the prefrontal cortex being the last to mature. Also occurring during this time, the brains axons gradually become more insulated with a substance called myelin, which makes the axons messaging speed a lot faster and allows information to be sent between neurons more quickly. These changes that occur in the brain during this time make for a more organized brain, as well as one that functions a lot quicker..

The video to the left of the screen, provided by Youtube user SciShow, offers an in depth description of all the physical changes that occur in the adolescent brain and the behavior that comes along with them.

Teen Brains May Be More Vulnerable To Stress

Brain changes during adolescence | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy

Because the teen brain is still developing, teens may respond to stress differently than adults, which could lead to stress-related mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to the present moment, may help teens cope with and reduce stress. More information on managing stress is available in the National Institute of Mental Healths fact sheet, 5 Things You Should Know About Stress.

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The Role Of The Amygdala In Teen Brain Development And Mental Health

The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobe of the cerebrum. It is responsible for immediate or gut reactions, including fear and aggressive behavior. Over the course of adolescence, the prefrontal cortex takes over greater control of the limbic system. Hence, we learn to think before we act. But before the prefrontal cortex matures, the amygdala is in charge.

Research shows that the amygdala plays an outsize role in teen behavior and mental health. For example, in one study, teens with a larger amygdala, relative to their total brain size, showed more aggressive behavior. Furthermore, in another study, teens with depression showed increased activity in the amygdala. This research might explain why teenagers feelings of aggression, fear, and depression may be more intense than those of adults.

One group of researchers studied how adolescents perceive emotion as compared to adults. The scientists looked at the brains of 18 children between the ages of 10 and 18. Next, they compared them to 16 adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging . Both groups were shown pictures of adult faces and asked to identify the emotion on the faces.

Teens Need Opportunities To Grow Many Different Skills

As their brain grows and gets connected functionally, they need to learn that they don’t have to be dependent on their parents but can become interdependent with other adults as they mature. They need opportunities to grow many different skills and to contribute those skills in a way that is valued. The brain develops in a way that produces lots of connections that are then removed if they are not used. So take care to encourage lots of connections to be used.

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The Functions Of The Cerebral Cortex

The cerebral cortex has six layers. Moreover, it is divided into lobes. Hence, these lobes are referred to by the names of the skull bones that cover them: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. In addition, the limbic lobe incorporates parts of three of the other lobes .

Each lobe is linked with various functions:

Frontal lobe reasoning and abstract thinking, aggression, sexual behavior, smell, voluntary movement and articulation of speech

Parietal lobe sensory awareness , language, abstract reasoning , body awareness

Temporal lobe emotions, compulsions, sexual behavior, interpretation of language, hearing, memory

Occipital lobe processing visual stimuli.

Medical Study Of Adolescents

The Building of the Teenage Brain: UNDER CONSTRUCTION

As over one-half of adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese, the scientists decided to study the brains of teens from age 14 to 19 to determine how the brain functioned when tempting foods were discussed. Excess weight has been linked to several diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and strokes. The scientists’ goal is to learn how to prevent obesity.

Researchers from Cornell studied 36 teenagers to determine their response to tempting food cues, such as French fries and chocolate. The research was designed to study the adolescent brain with the goal of predicting adult obesity. The researchers used functional MRI scans that measure blood flow through the brain to determine the teens response.

After the MRI scan, the teens were offered some high-fat and low-fat food to see if their appetites lined up with their responses during the MRIs.

The result of the study revealed that the teenagers had reduced activity in the brains self-regulation area, but the words did stimulate the areas of the brain associated with emotion and reward. Some teens were lean, and some were overweight. The lean teens were thought to be at risk due to obesity that ran in their families.

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