In this Edutopia article, Stephen Merrill says that recent research has given us important new information on the adolescent brain.
• The limbic system (the seat of primal instincts like fear, hunger, lust, and pleasure) is hyperactive during adolescence, while the prefrontal cortex (the seat of self-control, planning, and self-awareness) is still developing. “It’s not youthful irrationality or a flair for the dramatic at work,” says Merrill; “teenagers actually experience things like music, drugs, and the thrill of speed more powerfully than adults do.”
• The brain’s neuroplasticity at this stage of life makes kids sponges for learning. “The same emerging circuitry that makes teenagers vulnerable to risky behavior and mood swings also confers significant advantages on adolescent learners,” says Merrill.
• Being with peers increases risk-taking, most dangerously with automobiles and alcohol consumption. “It’s never been a question of feeling invulnerable,” says Merrill; “for teenagers, there’s just something about the presence of peers that is transfiguring. They understand the risks, and take them anyway.”
• Kids at this age respond well to direct explanations. “Talking to teenagers frankly about their brain development can provide useful context for their emotional worlds,” says Merrill, “and reset their expectations about their potential for continued intellectual growth.” This includes explaining the limbic system, the malleability of their brains, and the peer effect.
• Similarly, teens are receptive to learning about self-regulation, managing stress, and considering the feelings of others. Instruction in these areas is more effective than trying to scare kids about risky behaviors.
• Peer culture and teens’ keen sense of fairness and justice can be powerful levers. Preaching about smoking’s health consequences is usually ineffective, but talking about bad breath, peer disapproval, impact on younger children, and the way the tobacco industry hooks and exploits people can change teens’ attitudes and behavior.
“Decoding the Teenage Brain (in 3 Charts)” by Stephen Merrill in Edutopia, January 31, 2019
Taken directly from The Marshall Memo 774