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Changes in a Teenager’s Brain

Practically every book I have read recently about teenagers seems to have the word ‘brain’ somewhere in the title. Of course as a parent coach I have to be up to date on the latest research but as a mother of 2 teenagers I also have a vested interest in trying to understand the teens I am living with.

In the past, most of the changes in adolescent teens were blamed on hormones and it was thought that by the teenage years, the brain was fully developed.  90% of our understanding of how the teenage brain works has been discovered in the last 15 years since neurological scanning has been developing at an incredibly fast pace.  Science certainly wasn’t my strongest subject at school so I’m not going to get too technical but I have read some fascinating material on this subject which I will attempt to summarise.

Developments in neurological scans show that the main changes in teens are primarily due to changes in the development of the brain.  During this period, the teenage brain undergoes huge re-modelling mainly in the pre- frontal cortex/frontal lobe.


As a result of this re-wring phase, teens don’t always see the consequences of their actions or think ahead.

The pre frontal cortex is responsible for some major things:












….and it is not fully mature until the age of 25!!!!

Other fascinating research shows that teens experience major changes in their levels of dopamine which peak and then decline when they reach adult hood. This explains an expected increase in risk-taking behaviour and why teens focus so much on seeking pleasure and reward over thinking through the consequences of their actions.

Teenagers also secrete melatonin (natural sleep hormone) up to two hours later than when they were younger so they naturally stay up later. There is often a considerable disconnection between the sleep they really need and what they actually get. A few secondary schools are beginning to acknowledge this by starting school later.  They realise teens probably function better when they don’t have to get up so early.

I know this information doesn’t actually help parents know how to handle their teens (would need to write quite a few more articles about that) but hopefully it will help parents to be a bit more understanding and dare I say it more forgiving.  Adolescents aren’t just lazy, out of control and unfocused!!!  It is a key period when they are developing their core character traits and moving from needing to be looked after to becoming more independent from their parents and perhaps leaning more on their peers.  I know it’s a scary thought!

Teenagers do often feel misunderstood by their parents, even angry and detached. As parents we want the best for them, for them to be safe and to make the right decision.  It certainly helps parents to understand what is going on under the surface.

The top books I recommend on teenagers are: