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The Teenage Brain

The human brain reaches adult size at about 11 years of age but it has one of its biggest periods of change and development during adolescence and does not reach full ‘maturity’ until the mid twenties.

Adolescents can be ‘tricky’ to be around at times. Supporting teenagers invariably falls to parents and teachers.

The teenage brain brings great opportunity as well as challenge.

During puberty the brain begins its second biggest period of development since infancy. The brain begins ‘pruning’ neurons – unused neurons wither and those used are ‘myelinated’ (coated) allowing for more efficient information processing. This prepares us for the more complex problem solving needed in adulthood.

The brain’s limbic system – that manages emotions is one of the first to mature. The frontal lobes - necessary for ‘executive thinking’ are the last. This explains the impulsive, pleasure seeking, risk taking nature typically seen in teens.

Due to the mismatch in brain growth, psychologist Laurence Steinberg suggested that a teenager's brain “has a well-developed accelerator but only a partly developed brake.” Young people can make ‘sensible’, thought out decisions but are prone to acting on ‘gut feeling’ and making decisions ‘in the moment’.

Peer approval is very important to young people at a time when they struggle to interpret and understand social cues.

‘Fight or flight’ reactions are particularly extreme during adolescence – explaining the tendency to respond very strongly to perceived criticism, stress and relationship difficulties.

Adolescents’ brains are particularly vulnerable to substance misuse – ‘thrill seeking’ is a strong driver and the dopamine hit available from substances meets this need. The adverse effects of using substances are, however, greater in adolescence. For example, if an adolescent smokes, due to the changing brain, more nicotine receptors develop. This makes it harder to stop smoking.

The teenage brain has its perks – the reward centre in the brain is especially receptive at this time and is active when they learn a new task. This makes them more adaptive and efficient than adults. Their changing brain has the capacity to take on large amounts of information. They are highly emotional beings -they feel passionately and can use this positively to raise their concerns about the world, and defend those around them.

  • Help the whole school community understand the challenges and strengths of the teenage brain.

    This can allow appropriate support for the challenges. As well as making the most of the opportunities of this important period of brain development.

    Signposting to information, and giving time for discussion when the opportunity arises, can help young people make sense of their thinking and experiences;

    • Help them understand and learn strategies for emotional regulation, such as mindfulness.
    • Include PSHE on managing peer pressure and relationships.
    • Share factual information on risk-taking behaviours. Give young people space to think about their choices and avoid the impulsive decision making they are predisposed to.

    Help parents to understand the changes their child is experiencing too – providing information on the teenage brain.

    Encourage parents to complete the free online Solihull Training available to them on Just One Norfolk. This will help them to respond sensitively to the needs of their child.

     

  • Shelf Help:

    • Blame my Brain - Nicola Morgan.

How Can We Help?

Just One Number Call to speak to a health professional by phoning 0300 300 0123. They will be able to provide initial advice and support and guide next steps with us or signpost you to other more relevant agencies and professionals. It is available 08.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday and 09.00 to 13.00 on Saturdays.

Referrals for support are made by contacting Just One Number on 0300 300 0123. Please make sure you have the consent of the parent and / or young person before you make a referral to us. You do not need to fill out any paperwork prior to this call.

Referrals are made via the telephone to enable us to have an informative conversation with you at the point of referral so we can ensure we have all the required information for early triage and assessment of the child, young person or family. This will ensure the referral gets managed by the appropriate team in a more timely way or we can signpost you to a more appropriate service.

ChatHealth Children and Young people can access us through our text messaging service on 07480635060. They will be able to discuss any health concerns with one of our Practitioners and also be able to request an appointment if they would prefer to meet with us.

Parent Line Parents can access our services by texting our number 07520631590 . This allows them to access the advice and support from a clinician about any health issues affecting their children aged 0-19.

Just One Norfolk Health Passport app Young people age 16-19 can download this app on Apple or Android phones. It provides young people age 16-19 with general health information and advice to increase health literacy. It signposts to services and promotes self care. It aims to increase resilience and wellbeing and to find out how to access health services.

Health Unlocked Parents can be signposted to this. It is a carefully monitored online community forum which allows local parents and carers to talk with each other regarding issues affecting their children. This can be accessed through our Just One Norfolk website.

Solihull Parenting Online For our Norfolk parents there is the opportunity to access this free of charge through Just One Norfolk. It supports parents in understanding their children from 0-19 via 4 modules. Staff working with children and families will also benefit from this – or they can book to do the two day Solihull Training provided by our service by contacting karin.bibby@nhs.net. While COVID-19 restrictions are in place please contact Karin Bibby to register your interest in virtual training as this becomes available.

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