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How to understand your teenager’s brain

Teens scare their parentsBelow you’ll find a link to a great article that summarizes Dr. Dan Siegel’s new book on understanding teen behavior, entitled “Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain”.    He always writes great books that explain how our brains influence our development and behavior, and this one is no exception.

The article, entitled “Reconceptualizing Adolescence”, by Liza Greville, MA, LCSW, provides a great summary of the book’s main points.  First, 3 myths about adolescent development are debunked:

  1. Raging hormones actually do not account for the changes in behavior that we see as children enter adolescent years.
  2. Adolescents are not just “immature” and “on-hold” until they eventually grow up.
  3. Young people should not be expected to exit adolescence completely self-sufficient and independent of adults.  Some amount of nurturing, interdependent relationships are important for all of us.

Next she talks about 4 processes that become major themes for teen thought, feeling and behavior.  These are:

  • Novelty seeking — a love of adventure, but also perhaps an impulsive style
  • Social engagement — yes, the peer group becomes more important than before.  But continuing connections to loving or otherwise involved adults is also important
  • Increased emotional intensity — positive or negative moods feel so much stronger
  • Creative exploration –new brain development spurs new ways of thinking, trying on identities, struggling with purpose.

Teens also have chemical changes going on in their brains, which lead them to feel much less rewarded and more easily bored, unless they are involved in stimulating and novel activities.

All of the above can manifest in at least 3 important ways:

  1. Increased impulsiveness
  2. Susceptibility to addiction, added to by tendencies toward experimentation, social connection, self-medication, and addiction.
  3. Hyperrationality.  All that developing brainpower that’s going on can lead towards strongly focusing on, and arguing for, the positive consequences of an action, while downplaying the negative.

What to do?  Dr. Dan Siegel conceptualizes that all areas of our brains need a “workout”, and that’s even more true for teens.  He has a website called mindplatter.com that lists these areas as a “platter”, similar to the food pyramid.

  • Focus time — when we work and concentrate
  • Play time — having fun
  • Connecting time — people time
  • Physical time — moving our bodies
  • Time in — quietly focusing inward
  • Down time — nonfocused, relaxing, daydreaming
  • Sleep time — rest and recharge for the body and the brain

The article is great, the book has got to even better.  It’s definitely on my list to read.  And it’s on our recommeneded booklist as well.

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