No one developmental period in life is more derided than the teen years. Just look at the media and you will see some of the most terrifying headlines associated with adolescents.. They are overly focused on themselves and callous about others, addicted to the internet/gaming and even gambling, and worse yet supposedly causing increases in crime. Much like the monsters that lurk in the shadows, teens are something to fear!
But much like Nessie, adolescence as a scary developmental period is a myth. Adolescence is actually a pretty incredible period of brain development, with the lower areas of the brain now more firmly on board, so that language, learning and emotional regulation are more easily accessed. Millions of new neural connections are made in the frontal cortex, helping with impulse control, decision making and executive functions. This helps teens become more critical thinkers, shift from being totally “me centric”, and to wanting to deeply understand themselves within the community. This gives incredible opportunities for connection between caring adults and teens that look for mentorship and guidance. In addition to brain growth, there is also pruning of new synapsis, which allows for specialization of the brain. This is a critical time in development where teens find what drives them and interests them. New hobbies and interests can help them discover self worth and meaning. Finally, the most magical part of brain development in the adolescent years is the concept of neuroplasticity.
Due to the extreme neuroplasticity they experience naturally, teenagers have more power to improve than adults, and can rapidly show change and improvement. This is related to their increased ability to creatively problem solve . So in reality, if teens were a mythical creature, they would be more like a unicorn- som thing to admire and stand in awe of. For more great information on the adolescent brain check out this video by Dr. Dan Siegel: Dan Siegel – “The Adolescent Brain”