All parents whose children have reached the teenage years are familiar with the way their behaviour changes. They become more emotional, more intense, more reckless – often confusingly unlike the child you had been living with not all that long ago. Until recently, these changes tended to be put down to hormones, because it was believed that the brain had reached its full growth by puberty. Scientists now realise that isn’t true. Adolescence is a period during which very significant changes in the neural architecture of the brain are underway. This re-wiring holds implications for all areas of a teenager’s life: their friendships, their sleep patterns, their risk-taking, their relationship with parents, their romantic exploration, and their susceptibility to mental health challenges. It is not surprising that, if scientists are only beginning to get to grips with these discoveries, society has not caught up. That’s why we are keen to help bring them to the public.
Here are some of the discoveries scientists are making about adolescent development:
- The changes in teenage behaviour that used to be put down to hormones are probably more accurately attributed to a new phrase of brain development
- Changes in brain pathways enable adolescents to prepare for adulthood – while also putting mental health at greater risk
The insights we are gaining about adolescent development bring understanding, relief and opportunity for all of us. Adolescents too often get a bad rap. It is now clear that much of what our society lays at the feet of teenagers is unfair and misunderstood. Everyone benefits from a rethink. That includes the people who love teenagers: parents, grandparents, siblings, and wider family members. It also includes the people who work with them: teachers, career advisors, job mentors, community development workers and criminal justice staff, just for starters. Policy makers have a responsibility to take much greater account of this information. Just as importantly, young people themselves deserve more access to this information. In our experience, they want it. It makes sense of the confusion that comes from their rapidly changing sense of self and sense of connection to others.
Here’s one of our favourite videos exploring these new discoveries about adolescence: