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Teen Brain Development

By Asia Simmons Foster, VCCW

Why do people do the things they do? This question seems to be asked quite often by a lot of different individuals within out society. Although there are many theories that convince people to believe in abnormal psychological behaviors, we often overlook the fact that everything we do begins in our minds. Our minds are extremely powerful. Every thought, vision and feeling is compiled together whenever a person decides/chooses to do something. However, there have been many concerns over a lack of neuron growth in child brain maturity. These concerns have led neuropsychologists to believe that neuron deficiency causes the brain to delay development of the appropriate amount of nerve cells it needs to help the brain function to its full capacity.

In Claudia Wallis’s article, “The Wild World Of A Teen Brain”, she focuses on one project study conducted by Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental health. His study outlines a broader understanding on how the brain develops from childhood to adulthood by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as his primary component to view a child’s brain activity. His research has also determined the major issues of psychological behaviors that occur between the age of six to twenty-five. He states that “No matter how a particular brain turns out, its development proceeds in stages, generally from the front to back.” (Wallis, 2014). He clarifies his reasoning by adding the fact that children thrive off of attention and emotions from other individuals. Further research from the National Institute of Mental Health determines that “the brain undergoes two major developmental phases, one in the womb and the second that takes place from childhood through teen years. The maturation occurs in a predictable pattern, speeding from the back of the brain to the front.” (Wallis, 2014). This particular scientific observation is major because researchers from all over the country have tried for many decades to unravel what the main cause of brain development deficiency could be. Neuroscientists at NIMH have concluded that the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to mature, which may be the primary issue as to why children may have behavior issues at a young age.

Neuroscientists and neuropsychologists have found that many children may exhibit behavioral problems more frequently within their adolescent years due to the hormonal glands they develop. A teen’s hormone levels become amplified throughout their entire body because levels are mixed into the main bloodstream which causes an increase of active nerve cells in the hypothalamus and the amygdala. They are both then filled with all different kinds of emotions, which happens to coincide with the prefrontal cortex. This causes the prefrontal cortex to become vigorously active and leads the brain into working overtime. This strenuous brain activity may be the catalyst for a teen to experience a myriad of emotions and feelings such as lying, depression, rejection, and abandonment. Dr. Giedd gives additional information in his studies regarding his personal observations on children making slight slip-ups as they get older. He states that, “a child making mistakes is also a part of how the brain grows.” (Wallis, 2014). Although kids make many mistakes, it does not mean that they are labeled “bad”. Logically, it helps them distinguish between knowing what is right and what is wrong.

In society we judge and condemn young people quickly when they do something wrong but we need to take into account that every young person’s brain develops at a much different pace than others. Wallis’ article agrees with my statement in which she writes, “It is so hard to get a teenager off of the couch by blaming that on an immature nucleus accumbens, a brain region that directs motivation to see rewards.” (Wallis, 2014). Underdevelopment of the cerebral cortex and the thalamus will ultimately be the cause and reason as to why a teenager behaves in ways of immaturity. This is largely due to the fact that the brain has not yet reached between 85-100% of growth capacity to reach its full maturity. The author includes a statement from James Bjork, a psychologist at the national Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “if adolescents have a motivational deficit, it may mean that they are prone to engaging in behaviors that have either a really high excitement factor or a really low effort factor, or both.” (Wallis, 2014). Overall these facts and statements coincide with one another and yield the same result that a teen behaves in ways that are inevitable and incomprehensible to some. Yet, in today's world, we can consider teen behavior “common” human nature.

In conclusion, there is a considerably large chemical imbalance that can emerge when a child is growing into a maturing adult. Scientifically, our brain develops from the back (occipital lobe) first and the front (prefrontal cortex) last, which is an obvious discovery that demonstrates why our secondary functions mature slower. Since the prefrontal cortex is the area in our brain region that analyzes our most critical decisions in life, we can conclude from that information that adolescents behave in ways of dysfunction more due to the insufficient neurotransmitters that influence increased motor neuron receptors. After reading Ms. Wallis’ article, I have it to be thought provoking and informative on how some psychologists believe what happens inside a teenager’s brain. The author raises the reader’s attention by adding multiple statements on studies from various neuropsychologists which ultimately leads the read to question if they author is trying to use these studies to persuade her readers to believe these findings to be accurate. Regardless of the author’s and neuropsycologist’s findings that are presented in the article, aren’t making mistakes an inevitable and normal part of life?

Wallis, C. (2014) “Wild World Of A Teen Brain”, Time Magazine, 58-60.


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