Understanding the Teen Mind

Working in education doesn’t make parenting easier. It does, however, let me spend part of my work time learning about why children behave as they do. Increasingly, what I learn is rooted in brain research. Once one of life’s greatest mysteries, the thinking behind behavior is being revealed like a classic whodunit, thanks to magnetic-resonance images of the living, processing brain.

Questioning MindOf all the stages of development, parents and educators strive hardest to understand the teen years. An exciting yet characteristically turbulent, boundary-pushing stage where adults may often be inclined to ask, “What were you thinking?”, we’re fortunate to now have an answer. Two parts of the brain feature prominently in adolescence. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain most linked with mature judgment and self-control. The amygdala is the seat of our emotions. The biological details of what these two are doing during adolescence are best left to worthier publications than this column, but a satisfying metaphor shared by Ron Morrish, behavior specialist, is that of a construction site. The prefrontal cortex undergoes significant growth and change from the preteen years until the early twenties. It effectively becomes a construction site that, like any other, is unavailable for regular use. Where does the detour take an adolescent mind? The amygdala. This helps explain the oft-incomprehensible emotional swings that the adolescent, and those in their wake, must ride.

This has big implications for what we do as parents and educators. Dr. Ron Clavier, Clinical Psychologist and Neuroscientist, has laid out these implications, and related strategies, in his acclaimed book Teen Brain, Teen Mind: What Parents Need to Know to Survive the Adolescent Years. Humour, extensive experience and knowledge of the physiological underpinnings of this amazing stage have made Clavier a most-welcome voice in my world at school and home. If there is a teen or pre-teen in your life, I’m guessing he would also be a welcome voice in yours.

Dr. Clavier is speaking at Kingsway College School, 4600 Dundas St. West, at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 6th. Admission is free, and copies of his book will be available for sale. More details are available at www.kcs.on.ca/Speakers. Parents, educators, teens and all others who want to better understand the intriguing teen mind are welcome to join us.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.