Sooner or later, all children go through a stage of adolescence, which begins with sexual maturation, and ends with the attainment of self-sufficiency and independence. This period is not easy both for the teenagers, and for their parents. Sometimes own mood, behavior and desires can cause confusion even to the teenager, and there is a cause for that. During adolescence, the brain structures undergo fundamental changes, and the large amounts of hormones affect the individual as a whole.
A magnetic resonance imager (MRI) allows the scientists to explore the features of the teenage brain structure and functioning. Exploring the brain, a neuroscientist Charles Nelson from University of Minnesota compares the images, based on the results of the adult and the teenager's brain. This helps to identify intermediate changes in the brain structure quite accurately. Such a detailed study predicts the ways of healthy development for adolescents.
An unusual behavior, weird thoughts and desires, the mood swings, and so on may appear during the adolescence period. Studies have shown that a growth spurt of the brain cells can be observed in the frontal cortex of the brain just before the onset of puberty (Spinks, 2002). In the documentary teen brain development is compared to the growth of the tree: “First there is a flurry of growth. Then unused branches or pathways are pruned.” (Spinks, 2002). This means that the skills teenagers are practicing and developing, stay with them, and vice versa, forgotten skills become pruned, just like the odd branches.
The researchers also suggest that the surge of hormones responsible for the mood of a teenager is also produced in the frontal cortex (Spinks, 2002). Emotional swings are quite commonplace – a teenager can laugh and have fun chatting with a peer, but after some time he or she may fall into depression at the drop of a hat.
Having a teenager experience, it is hard not to be surprised. There are quite many similarities between the shown in the video and the personal experience. Most of the stories, presented by the adolescents in the film, have a lot in common with personal stories, feelings, fears and desires. The lack of time to sleep, the quarrels with the parents, though they are loved with all heart, and making the same spontaneous hasty decisions, all looks familiar.
One of the most attractive ideas in the film is about the advantages of having a good sleep. Everyone knows sleeping is beneficial for an organism, but the scientists have proven with the research how much a rested mind can achieve. The fact that an extra hour of the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep increases the chances of getting the higher score on the test (Spinks, 2002) sounds very promising. If every college made a decision to start the classes at least one hour later, a lot more students could become more interested in studying and would be energized. The changes that are happening inside the teenage brain require a lot of time and energy.
More explanation for the concepts presented in the documentary can be found in a book by David Myers (2014). The author presents the researches of his colleagues who suggest that the front lobes of the brain are developing rapidly during adolescence, which opens up rich learning opportunities for teenagers. For example, Kuhn and Silver et al. noticed the growth of myelin, a substance that wraps around the axons and accelerates the transmission of impulses from the brain cells to nerve endings, and vice versa (as cited in Myers, 2014). Which skills an individual gains in adolescence, such skills he or she will use successfully in adulthood (Myers, 2014). If to support this idea, though, when a teenager is under the spontaneous influence of hormones and is looking for self-identity, it can be so difficult to decide on what would really come in handy in the future. It seems that making mistakes is an essential component of adolescent maturation.
Young blood is boiling in the adolescent body, often encouraging teens to seek for risky adventures. Whether the purpose is a conflict with parents, or a desire to earn the respect and authority among peers, teens make hasty dangerous decisions, rarely thinking ahead about the consequences. From a psychological point of view, such behavior can be explained by the fact that the development of certain brain structures is delayed in adolescence (Myers, 2014). The author explains this kind of risky behavior as an inability for teenagers to press “the brake pedal controlling their impulses” in time (Myers, 2014, p.193). Sometimes it can lead to disastrous results, but sometimes a teen gets the personal luggage of knowledge that in the future will become a valuable experience.
Another interesting issue examined in the film is about the difference between the relationship with parents and peers in adolescence. The difference between the ways their child behaves at home and at school, can be disappointing for parents, as their child seems to become two completely different personalities depending on the occasion. Psychological studies show that during adolescence teenagers begin to ask themselves questions about the existential nature. According to Erikson's theory of cognitive development, this stage is called “search for identity.” (Myers, 2014, p.196). A teenager tries to find the best decision on how to feel comfortable among peers and within the family. Knowing these nuances can help desperate parents to understand their rebellious child better and to find an ecological approach to interact. According to Gold and Yanof research, teenagers who have a healthy relationship with their parents are more likely to establish friendships with peers (as cited in Myers, 2014).
Mutual understanding between parents and adolescents may be difficult to achieve, given the fact that the same things they understand differently. Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd from McLean Hospital conducted a series of experiments on teenagers studying the features of their perception of the adult emotional expressions by magnetic resonance imager (MRI) scanning (Spinks, 2002). She and her assistant assumed that the responses of adolescent and adult brain would be similar. However, the results were quite different. This discovery largely explains the causes of conflict and misunderstanding between teenagers and their parents. This knowledge can be applied to person, referring to the relationship with one’s parents. Many teenagers become angry with the constant reminders to dress warmly, to be careful, and the like. One may feel like parents treat him or herself like a little child and may hesitate whether they believe they could be independent and responsible for their behavior and life. Later, most of the adolescents realize that in such way parents show their love and concern for their children, but not their anger at all.
Finally, this documentary would be helpful to everyone who is interested in understanding the sophisticated world of adolescents. This information is also expected to be particularly useful for teenagers who may not understand what is happening to them or who feels he or she is stuck with finding self-identity. The film was not made strictly scientific, and that the participating teens shared their real thoughts and feelings. This documentary might be very facilitating for adolescents who have no one to share their worries with. For parents and psychologists, these materials can help to become more understanding and tolerant towards the teenagers, as a lot of unwanted behavior does not simply occur due to adolescent whimsicality or naughtiness, but because of the peculiarities of the young brain development. One should also be aware, that the main goal of adolescence is the attainment of independence and autonomy that comes with the definition of personal identity and purpose in life (Myers, 2014). Therefore, adults should understand the processes that occur inside a teenage brain and help them mature and become the young adults.
Myers, D. G. (2014). Developing Through the Life Span. Psychology (10th ed., pp. 166-215). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Spinks, S. (Producer & Director). (2002). Inside the Teenage Brain. [Documentary film]. Boston, MA: Spin Free Production for FRONTLINE/WGBH. Distributed by CTV and Discovery Channel Canada.