Understanding the ‘teenage brain’ can help parents

Childhood behavioral expert Jim Harris says if it seems to adults that a teen's brain works differently from theirs, that's right. Understanding the differences can be a big help. Photo credit: Dan Heyman, Public News Service.

S<span>ALT LAKE CITY – Maybe your teen’s brain doesn’t work the same way yours does.</span>

<span>But an expert on childhood behavior says new research can help you better understand the differences. </span>

<span>Jim Harris works with the U.S. Department of Education and Marshall University to improve behavioral practices in schools. </span>

<span>He says the risky experimentation teens seem drawn to from puberty is at least partly the result of biological changes in their brains. </span>

<span>He says the adolescent brain is pushing its owner to be ready to leave the nest.</span>

<span>”It’s encouraging risk taking, novelty seeking, in an effort to get kids to leave what are oftentimes safe, secure, situations to go out and experiment, and venture into adulthood,” Harris explains.</span>

<span>Harris is a clinical social worker, who recently spoke at the largest state conference of social workers in the country. </span>

<span>He says the reaction often is to blame hormones and the teens’ newly awakened sex drive. </span>

<span>But he says it’s deeper than that. Young people may be getting ready to start their own families, but he explains their brains are changing in other ways, too. </span>

<span>Take the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain in charge of rational decision-making and impulse control. </span>

<span>In a teen, Harris says, it’s still developing, partly through experience and experimentation. </span>

<span>He adds in most people, it hasn’t fully developed until their 20s.</span>

<span>”It’s not that they’re not necessarily rational,” he stresses. “It’s just that they’re fine-tuning their rational process.”</span>

<span>Harris calls his presentation, A Teenager’s Brain: A Scary Place to Go Alone.</span>

<span>He says he means two things by that – that the mind of an adolescent can be a strange landscape for an adult, but also that teens should not have to go through these changes alone. They still need parents’ guidance and support.</span>

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