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Understanding the Teenaged Brain

Updated on June 2, 2015

The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that allows people to think, evaluate, and make complex judgements. It’s not fully developed until a person is in the early to mid twenties. Until then, impulse control and good judgement is not fully developed. This contributes to the impulsive and sometimes risky behavior common to the teenage years.

Cognitive Development in Teens

Jean Piaget was a psychologist who made significant contributions to the understanding of human development. According to Piaget, the teenage years mark the formal operational stage of cognitive development, in which youngsters begin to think abstractly and in shades of gray This ability to abstract reasonably may lead adolescents to question authority, especially parents and teachers, and more easily recognize inconsistencies, especially in parental and authoritative behavior. Abstract thought and the consequential idealism may cause teenagers to become impatient with imperfections in institutions, such as school or the government. In general, teenagers become more argumentative. At the same time, abstract thinking allows teenagers to see multiple sides of an issue and can cause quite a bit of indecisiveness.

Developmental psychologists believe that brain development in the teenage years leads to metacognition, the ability to evaluate one’s own thinking, and consequently, metacognition leads to the introspection, self-consciousness, and self-absorption markedly found in the adolescent years. Many teenagers readily think that others are watching them, construct elaborate scenarios of others’ thoughts, and may develop an imaginary audience and personal fables (the belief that their own experiences are unique). How many times has a teenager said “You just don’t understand!”? Personal fables can also make adolescents feel invulnerable to risks that threaten others. This can make them more inclined to succumb to negative peer pressure or “jump off a pier” when their friends do.


In Conclusion...

Although adolescents may look and behave like adults, or at least more mature than they were as children, the adolescent brain still has quite a bit of maturing to do. Teenagers should not be expected to think and behave like adults until their brains finish maturing in their twenties. If you have a teenager in your life, it helps to understand the teenaged brain.


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