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Teen Brain’s Uneven Development Explains Why Teens Act the Way They Do

As part of its Parents Who Host Lose the Most Underage Drinking Prevention Campaign, Manhasset CASA is proud to feature the work of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In its efforts to educate the Manhasset community to the health, safety and legal consequences of underage drinking, this week’s article “Behavior and The Teen Brain” has been provided by the Partnership to explain how the process of a teen’s brain development impacts their behaviors and decision making abilities:

“From early adolescence through their mid-20s, a teen’s brain develops somewhat unevenly, from back to front. This may help explain their endearingly quirky behavior but also makes them prone to risk-taking.

The parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the part of the brain which controls reasoning and impulses - known as the Prefrontal Cortex - is near the front of the brain and, therefore, develops last. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25.

It’s as if, while the other parts of the teen brain are shouting, the Prefrontal Cortex is not quite ready to play referee. This can have noticeable effects on adolescent behavior. You may have noticed some of these effects in your teen:

- difficulty holding back or controlling emotions,

- a preference for physical activity,

- a preference for high excitement and low effort activities (video games, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll),

- poor planning and judgment (rarely thinking of negative consequences),

- more risky, impulsive behaviors, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

The development of the adolescent brain and behavior are closely linked. In a wink, hormones can shift your teen’s emotions into overdrive, leading to unpredictable—and sometimes risky—actions. Unfortunately, developing brains may be more prone to damage. This means that experimentation with drugs and alcohol can have lasting, harmful effects on your teen’s health.

Research shows that alcohol abuse during the teenage years negatively impacts the memory center of the brain (the hippocampus).

The use of drugs and alcohol may also disrupt the development of the adolescent brain in unhealthy ways, making it harder for teens to cope with social situations and the normal pressures of life.

Moreover, the brain’s reward circuits (the dopamine system) get thrown out of whack when under the influence. This causes a teen to feel in a funk when not using drugs or alcohol—and going back for more only makes things worse.

It is important to urge your teen to take healthy risks. Not only will participation in constructive activities—such as athletics or the arts—help him or her form positive lifestyle habits, it will help your teen’s forebrain develop as well. For more information regarding the teen brain, go to “A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain” at http://www.drugfree.org/TeenBrain/science/index.html.”

Manhasset CASA’s Parents Who Host Lose the Most: Don’t be a party to teenage drinking. It’s against the law campaign, was originally developed by the Drug-Free Action Alliance. CASA has partnered with many members of the community to educate parents and residents to the health, safety and legal consequences of underage drinking. For more information about the campaign or Manhasset CASA, call (516) 267-7548 or go to www.manhassetcasa.org.