Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction (link to NIMH brochure and personal musings)

The US National Institute of Mental Health has recently published an easy to read brochure which outlines brain changes in the still developing adolescent brain.  An understanding of these changes go a long way in explaining puzzling contradictions in teen behavior.

These sections of the brochure especially resonated with me. They essentially point to growing evidence that even up to their early 20’s, people are still maturing emotionally. They have not yet reached full capacity to think and reason.

“The (functional brain imaging) scans also suggest that different parts of the cortex mature at different rates. Areas involved in more basic functions mature first: those involved, for example, in the processing of information from the senses, and in controlling movement. The parts of the brain responsible for more “top-down control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead – the hallmarks of adult behavior- are among the last to mature.”

“Several lines of evidence suggests that the brain circuitry involved in emotional responses is changing during the teen years. Functional brain imaging studies, for example, suggest that the responses of teens to emotionally loaded images and situations are heightened relative to younger children and adults. The brain changes underlying these patterns involve brain centers and signaling molecules taht are part of the reward system with which the brain motivates behavior. These age-related changes shape how much different parts of the brain are activated in response to experience, and in terms of behavior, the urgency and intensity of emotional reactions.”

As adults, we have the responsibility to continue to nurture young adults, provide guidance, and fully respect them in the light of how they are able to reason, react emotionally, and learn.

These responsibilities we have as adults should resonate in the public sector.
For example, those who market and advertise should exercise caution with “emotionally laden images” when targeting teens and young adults to buy their products and services. To do otherwise is disrespectful.

In a similar vein, I believe that the recruitment of people under 21 into the armed services is not too farm removed from recruiting child soldiers. Again, it is easy to market with images appealing to the emotions involved with sense of adventure, being in a group of like minded individuals, patriotism, and fighting evil. But is the age group of 18-21 a good fit for the military? I think not.  Recruiting in this age group is taking advantage of the still developing, not fully developed  areas of the brain devoted to analyzing risks and self control. People in this age group should be guided and nurtured in environments in which risk taking and self control  are valued, not violence based or used against individuals or groups. I believe the military is violence based under the guise of words as protection, defense, and patriotism. The military is no place for a developing brain.

January 3, 2012 - Posted by | Psychology | , ,

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