Another thing that is happening in adolescents' brains is myelination. Myelin is a fatty material that wraps itself around the axons of brain cells and helps the brain to communicate quickly and efficiently. Simply put, it turbo-charges thinking. (In multiple sclerosis, it is the myelin sheath that breaks down, causing such devastating effects for sufferers.)
|Myelination Adolescent Brain|
It is during the adolescent years that myelin is put into place - it increases by about 100 percent during this time. Two areas of the brain that are extensively undergoing myelination are the hippocampus, which has to do with memory, and the cingulate, which involves emotions. This research explains two of the great mysteries of life with teenagers. For years I would watch parents say to their adolescent children, "What are you thinking about?," only to receive a blank look, a shrug of the shoulders, and a "Dunno." I always thought they were putting it on; now I really think they don't know. They weren't thinking at all. That blank look was completely justified: they were only reacting.
The research indicating the level of myelination in the cingulate also points to solving the mystery of some family interactions. The cingulate is involved in moral reasoning. The relative inability of early adolescents to think through consequences and measure their responses again partly explains why, in family therapy, parents lament how their teenager goes "absolutely berserk," "over the top," "ballistic," and so on when asked to do something minor like take out the trash. Teenagers have little sense of perspective.
Increased affiliation with peers
It's not going to come as news to most of you that the adolescent brain is not only tumultuously emotional, it is also incredibly social. As neuroscientist Linda Spear points out, most species show an alteration in social behavior around the time of adolescence. Play fighting and play behavior increase before declining as sexual maturity is reached.
During an average week, adolescents have been reported to spend close to one third of their time awake talking with peers, but only 8 percent talking with adults.
Teenagers are nothing if not great imitators. Fashion, music, lip gloss, heavy deodorant - it's all around you! As well as being great imitators, they are wary in case they lose peer approval. Many have two worlds: the world of peers, where they need to be cool, compact, and calculating; and the world of family, where they can still be young and make mistakes. Parents shouldn't expect teenagers to behave with their peers in the same way they behave with them.
Competitors watch out!
Churchillian kids can take loss and failure very badly in the senior years of school. The risk is that they can give up challenging the world and disappear in a haze, literally. The rearm of drugs is not a good one for these kids. Look for opportunities for them to have adventures, preferably involving physical challenges and new peer groups.
Sensitivity to stress
The decision-making ability of adolescents may be more vulnerable to disruptions by the stresses and strains of everyday living than that of adults. Adolescents are often sleep-deprived, which may in turn increase their vulnerability to stress. Teenagers may have more negative life experiences (friendship changes, alterations in romantic liaisons, schoolwork) than adults, which they tend to view more negatively and have less control over, This may well increase their sense of helplessness.
The more negative life events an adolescent has, the more likely he is to engage in problem behaviors and the less likely he is to engage in a wide range of positive activities.
Adolescents display considerably poorer cognitive performance under time-limited situations than under optimal test conditions. This means that they can perform poorly on exams. If this occurs, make sure they don't use their own exam performance as a measure of their ability. To find out more, you can check out Myelination Adolescent Brain.