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Sunday, May 29, 2016
Person to Person
The teenage brain: still under construction
Linda Sapadin Ph.D.
Linda Sapadin

He was age 18. Old enough to take on the world (or so he thought).  Yet young enough to perform a dozen dim-witted actions before the sun rose the next morning.

Of course, he thought he was magical. He could do no wrong. He knew it all. He was a smart kid. Way too smart to listen to any stupid rules his parents lay down for him. His parents weren’t bad. They were good people. They loved him. But they were an endless supply of warnings. And fears. And mistrust. Enough of that crap.

Tonight was his night. It was easy. He was with his best buddies, speeding along in his sparkling new BMW. Flooring the pedal for excitement; braking ever so subtly to take a drag.  It wasn’t until later that things got more complicated.

Later, after the screech of the brakes. Later, after the siren of the ambulance. Later, after the Jaws of Life pulled him out. Later, after he learned that his friend didn’t make it.

This story is every parent’s nightmare. Smart kids doing stupid things. Responsible kids daring each other to be irresponsible. Insightful kids displaying not an iota of insight.

What causes such maddening teenage behavior?

The teenage brain may seem like an adult brain. Even better than an adult brain. For sure, your kids are smarter, faster, stronger and even wiser than you in a myriad of ways.

But in other ways? Not so smart. If you have any doubt that teenage brains are not adult brains, just think back to your own teen years. Unless you were a very good kid (aka: a scared kid) you probably took chances you’d never take today.

An understanding of the construction of the adolescent brain may help explain the risky behavior they take, despite “knowing” better. The executive part of their brain (the frontal lobes) which is responsible for weighing choices, considering consequences, assessing probability and ultimately making decisions has less myelin on them then adult brains.


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