That the adolescent brain is often open to risky behaviors is not new news to The Aspire Group or other professionals who work with teens. In this article, the author states that “the teenage brain is not an old child brain or a half-baked adult brain; it is a unique entity …” Over time and as the brain develops, Mr. Giedd writes, it is the “mismatch” between the limbic system which drives emotions and the prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses, that creates these otherwise difficult to understand behaviors.
However, Neuroscientists, today, have a much better understanding of an adolescent’s risky, aggressive or difficult behaviors. They have identified that it is the plasticity of networks linking the regions of the brain that are the key to maturity. We now understand that risk taking, sensation seeking, and separating from parents in favor of ones peers are not the signs of cognitive or emotional problems but rather, the normal and natural progression of brain development and part of learning how to negotiate in a complex world.
We now better appreciate that a teen’s behavior is less about late development of executive functioning or the early onset of emotional behavior, but rather, a mismatch in the timing of these two developments.
We think having this understanding that the brain changes throughout the teenage years serves to help parents appreciate that their child is not a “lost cause.” It provides optimism that interventions designed to keep a teen safe and get through difficult development issues can, and often do, change an adolescent’s life course.