There's no doubt that the teenage brain processes emotions more intensely than an adult's brain does. Adolescence marks a busy time, a time of facing an extraordinary array of challenges—high school, sexuality, and peer pressure to name the top three. Every day 29 million fertile, creative, impressionable minds ease their way toward adulthood. Sometimes our brains rise to meet the challenges; sometimes the explosion of stimuli is too much.
Scientists have come up with some interesting new information about how and why teenagers develop and behave as they do. Negotiating your way through the complex issues of moodiness, competition, popularity, and body image can often be overwhelming. Looking inside the teenage brain has shed some light into why it's so difficult to be a teenager.
Did you know that...
Pinball, juggling, and Nintendo® are all excellent right brain activities, which force you to act on instinct. And crossword puzzling is to the brain as running on a treadmill is to the heart.
The frontal cortex, the area of the brain that tempers emotional response and imparts reason, insight, and judgment, is not fully developed in teenagers. It's no wonder you tend to respond with a gut reaction rather than a more adult-like cautious, modulated response. You can hardly be expected to be completely mature walking around with an immature brain! It's a wonder then that only 10% of all teenagers experience an adolescence clouded by depression, violence, and/or risky behaviors.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a signal that travels back and forth between cells communicating information. Researchers have found that teens who have abnormal levels of this chemical exhibit disturbing behaviors. Too much serotonin can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors like eating disorders. Too little can result in violent, impulsive actions.
Teenagers most likely to be aggressive shared an inability as kids to keep their minds focused on a given task. Although it is just one of many factors, an underactive pre-frontal cortex, which fails to put the brakes on angry feelings, could contribute to why so many kids get into trouble during these adolescent years.
By virtue of lives chock full of activity, high school students are usually the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to sleep at night. This has led to a crisis of sleep deprivation among teens. We used to believe later bedtimes had only to do with psychological and social factors. Now doctors are saying that changes in the adolescent brain cause teens to fall sleep later at night. Scientists believe it's a shift in your biological clock that prevents you from falling asleep as early as you used to. Going to school so early is equivalent to attending classes during the last third of your sleep cycle!
At any point in time, about five percent of adolescents will suffer from severe depression. Although there is great success with therapy and antidepressant medications, only about half of depressed teens are ever identified and only half of them get the proper treatment. There are roughly 2,000 deaths attributed each year to suicide, a number not only higher than teens who die from cancer, leukemia, and heart disease combined, but a number that has increased 200% in recent years. Finding out which kids get depressed, why, and under what circumstances is a subject of great interest for researchers all over the country.