An inner look of the teenage mind

By Maggie Sperry

Every parent asks questions about their teenager’s actions. What were they doing? What were they thinking? And more importantly, what can explain this behavior? There have been many attempts to answer these questions and author David Dobbs has done much research to answer them.

Dobbs wrote an article called “Beautiful Brains” for National Geographic Magazine about his studies on the teenage mind. In this article he gave an example of his son, Dustin Dobbs, driving at 113 miles per hour on an open strip and his subsequent arrest.

His son’s actions aroused questions, to arise regarding his thought process. In his attempt to answer them, Dobbs performed studies on the teenage brain. What he found, and his findings shocked him. A teenager’s brain, it turns out, take much longer to develop than originally thought.

A child's brain developing overtime.
A child’s brain developing over a course of 20 years. 

“This process of maturation, once thought to be largely finished by elementary school, continues throughout adolescence,” said Dobbs.

The science behind it says that over time the brain’s axons become more encased in a fatty substance called myelin, which in turn increases the speed of the axons transmission. The dendrites, the receiving extensions on a neuron, become thinner while the synapse grows stronger. As a result, the brain’s cortex becomes thinner and the brain becomes a more productive organ.

With the brain becoming faster, the corpus callosum, the connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, becomes thicker. The links between the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain increase and it is therefore able to generate and weigh more variables. One also gets better at integrating memory and experiences into the decisions one makes. In the short term, adult brains are able to see most outcomes of an event before it is fully carried out, both the risks and the rewards.

In an interview Dobbs did with National Geographic, he compared parents thinking of risk compared with their children’s.

“If you screen [adolescents] for if they understand risk, they understand them actually better than adults do. They just don’t exaggerate the risk as much,” stated Dobbs.

Although this does not apply to all cases, one can see that adolescents do not find themselves invincible. They are not blind to risk but they are not completely stopped by it. In order to see more of the outcomes one must experience or see them, in order to learn from them. As for students, thinking twice before doing something is always a good idea. But for parents, trusting children and listening to them can help both you and your child.

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