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Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Are Teens So Moody And Impulsive? This Neuroscientist Has The Answer

Follow on Twitter as @carolyn_greg
"Parents often complain their teenagers are moody, impulsive and self-centered -- but it may not be their fault." according to Carolyn Gregoire, Senior Writer at the Huffington Post.

Photo: Huffington Post

Photo: Dr. Frances Jensen
The secret to understanding teens' behavior may lie in understanding their brain chemistry, says Dr. Frances Jensen, chair of the University of Pennsylvania neurology department and author of The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.

Jensen, a neuroscientist and mother of two teenage boys, describes adolescence as the "second critical period of development," after early childhood. The brain is developing until the mid-20s, she explains, and this has significant implications for young adults' emotional lives and decision-making.

In a recent interview with HuffPost Science, Jensen answered some of our questions about the mysteries of the teenage brain.

What inspired you to study the teenage brain?
I’ve had a career for many years looking at brain development. When I was doing all these experiments in my lab, I didn’t realize that I also had an experiment going on in my house with my sons, who were definitely changing, to say the least.

What was going on with my sons was fascinating -- and it was also frustrating. So I decided that I would turn my potential anger and frustration into curiosity, and given that I was already in brain development, I just switched my focus to a different window of brain development, and I realized that there was a wealth of extremely recent information and a lot of this research just wasn’t getting out to the public.

What makes the teen brain so different from the adult brain?
It was only recently that scientists realized that the brain is the last organ in the body to reach maturity and that it does not reach maturity during puberty. Development goes on into the mid-20s. That was big news, and people only became aware of it in the early 2000s when it was starting to hit the literature... As a parent and a scientist, it all started to gel for me. In every species that we look at, it's the last organ in the body to reach full maturity. Because the brain is built on experience, and it takes the first two and a half decades of life to sort of "scaffold" the brain. During the teenage years, your brain is actually stronger for learning and memory and being imprinted upon than it will be later in life. It’s a carpe diem point.

Of course, there are a lot of weaknesses, and that’s what you’re picking up on as a parent -- Why did this smart person do this really stupid thing? What are they thinking? Do they think? -- And a lot of that has science behind it. It’s made me a more patient parent. 

Source: Huffington Post