The Teenage Brain Explained

The Teenage Brain Explained


Being a teenager is hard. And so is living with one, I’m told. No human gets to escape this moody, angsty, confusing phase And interestingly, such an extended adolescence is unique to humans. Other animals grow up a lot faster than we do. And you may think our teen years are just about streamlining bodies for baby making, but as it turns out, the storm of sex hormones that we associate with the teenage years, are only a small part of what’s really going on in the teenage body. Most of the action, it turns out, is happening in the brain. Until fairly recently, we thought that the brain finished the nuts and bolts of its development, by the time we started kindergarten. But really, when puberty starts, it undergoes massive remodeling. This amounts to several years of neural growing pains, as well as the other more visible growth that’s going on all over your body. So take heart! Whether you’re going through it now, or about to go through it, or count yourself among the veterans of that turbulent decade, know that the result of the teen years is a stronger, faster, more sophisticated brain. If there were someone that told me twenty years ago… Let’s start with that obvious scapegoat of adolescent anguish, hormones. That word itself, is kind of a lazy shorthand that people use to describe the chemicals that some glands secrete, that can affect our behavior. But the fact is, hormones have all kinds of jobs that have nothing to do with where you grow hair, or what turns you on, or whether you feel glum for no apparent reason Hormones keep your heart beating, and your body hydrated, and they make your organs grow, and make you grow bone, and muscle, and skin! What people actually mean when they talk about ‘teenage hormones’, are sex hormones. And yes, puberty involves a whole series of sex hormones storms, the first of which actually kicks in before you’re outta Primary School. That’s when the Adrenal glands star secreting androgens, which triggers the growth in activity of the skin’s sebaceous glands, making skin more oily. Soon enough, more apocrine or sweat glands get activated increasing body odor. Then comes the waves of hormonal agents that start activating the gonads. For boys, this influx of luteinizing hormones from the pituitary gland, get testosterone from the testes, and suddenly, that guy has up to fifty times more testosterone than he did before puberty. This also changes the shape of the male body, promoting hair growth, and building up lean muscle mass, just as the increased presence of estrogen in girls rearranges the deposition of their fats, stimulating the growth of breasts. Humans are actually lucky to experience the craziness of puberty only once, many other animals undergo multiple similarly intense hormonal rodeos as they enter sexually active periods, sometimes called the rot or heat, every new breeding season. Some male species completely stop eating during their breeding period, because they’re just that sex crazed. And yet all that said, teen are far less ruled in their hormones than you might think. There are other factors that play here. For example, your favorite moody teen may be by turns punchy, angry, depressed, or in a zombie like fog, because of their chronic lack of sleep. Sleep is vital to everyone, but it’s specially important for kids and teens, because it’s during sleep that your pituitary gland releases an essential growth hormone, necessary for development. A normal sleep cycle driven by circadian rhythm, is regulated by the daytime release of cortisol, which helps you wake up, and melatonin, which helps you wind down when it gets dark. But this biology of sleep timing changes as we age and as puberty begins, teens’ sleep clocks get pushed back. Most adults start producing melatonin 10 p.m. ish, but one study showed that teenagers don’t start producing melatonin until closer to 1am! This may be because puberty’s hormonal frenzy is stalling the release of melatonin, and could partly explain why so many teens stay up late, energized by the night, but had a really hard time rolling outta bed with the alarm. Of course it’s a bit of a chicken and egg deal, since watching reruns of The Simpsons, and playing Call o’ Duty late at night continues to stimulate the brain, which may further delay the release of melatonin. Still, some researchers are starting to advocate for pushing back high school start times in the morning, in the hopes of having more focused students. So we’ve got sex hormones changing the bodies, and a lack o’ sleep to contend with, but increasing evidences suggest that, there is something much bigger at work that’s making teenagers so ‘teenager-ry’. Their brains! It turns out that brains actually take longer than we thought, to fully mature. I don’t mean physical size – our brains are already about 95% full-sized by the time we’re just six – but more in the sense of the connections inside the brain. Adults – for the most part – know how to make decisions by evaluating choices, and weighting consequences. They do this with their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling impulses and emotions, and forming judgments. Its neurons chat with the neurons in other regions of the brain, responsible for – say it – memory or movement, through synapses. The thing is, teenage brains don’t quite work like this yet. The prefrontal cortex may not be fully developed until you’re mid-twenties, and teen synapses – those ”lines” of communication – are still growing, and specializing. They’re also – slow. As an adolescent brain keeps developing, its axons – the long ”tail-like” parts of the neurons that transmits signals to other neurons – become more and more insulated by a fatty layer called the ‘Myelin Sheath’. This padding greatly increases the cell’s transmission speed, and while it helps adults make faster decisions, it isn’t fully formed in teens. These changes occur slowly, beginning at the back o’ the brain, where the oldest and most fundamental brain parts reside, and slowly working its way forward to the more advanced and complicated brain bits. The prefrontal cortex is the last to be hooked up and shaped. So it’s important to keep in mind, that just because your favorite teenager stayed up until sunrise binge-watching ‘The Walking Dead’ the night before an exam, it doesn’t mean they’re dumb or lazy, their brain are just literally finishing being built. But at the same time, because all o’ this brain building’s just starting to peak, this is also, when the brain starts getting thinned out. You actually start losing connections that you don’t use enough, in a process called synaptic pruning – which has led to a theory that this is kind of a ‘use it or lose it’ phase. Meaning, adolescence could be an specially important time to use your brain – play an instrument; engage in sports; write poetry; learn language! Because by doing these things, you’re helping hardwire those synapses, and giving your brain topiary a lovely lasting shape. Whereas if you’re sitting around all day playing Candy Crush, those will be the connections that survive, which you don’t need… This shaping of the teen brain manifests itself in other ways too, like in teenage attitudes. A group of scientist at the McLean Hospital of Massachusetts, once hooked up a group of adults and a group of teens, to MRI devices and then asked them to identify a series of expressions on photographs of adults faces. Interestingly, while adults correctly identified one expression as fear, the teenagers thought the faces showed anger, surprise, or shock. They weren’t registering subtleties well. Not only that, but the MRI images showed that adults and teens responded with different parts of their brains. Adults, use the reasonable prefrontal cortex, while the teens mostly use the gut reaction, emotional amigdala, located farther back in the brain. Results like these might help explain why teenagers seem to experience frequent mood swings. For one, they tend to react quickly from the emotional part of their brain, without running those reactions by the more rational frontal cortex, and two, it could be that they’re just misreading expressions, and therefore the intentions behind them. The frontal cortex also helps people relate to, and understand each other, and you can imagine what happens when concern is misjudged as anger; or worry, as disappointment. The Fresh Prince has an entire song about it. But the truth is, as much as parents just don’t understand, teens don’t always understand either. When the emotional amigdala, and the more rational cortex aren’t fully hooked up yet, that can make it hard for teenagers to productively work through emotions. This kind of reactionary, impulsive behavior may also lead to more risk taking. Adolescence is the time when we’re most likely to experiment with whatever booze, or drugs is available, and unfortunately, it’s also the time our developing brains are most vulnerable to lasting effects Studies have shown that teens are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, than adults partly because their brains are more attuned to their reward centers. While the teenage prefrontal cortex is still developing, their ‘Nucleus Accumbens’, or ‘pleasure and reward zone’, forms early on. Neuroimaging studies have shown that when presented with a big potential reward, teen brains light up way more than kids or adults brains, but if the reward was small, teen brains hardly fired at all. So basically, give an adolescent a pat on the back, and you’ll get a shrug. Give them a hot date or a wining goal, and their brains light up like Vegas. This of course, does not always result in great judgment. A jacked up thrill-seeking impulse, combined with exquisite pang of peer pressure, plus a new driver’s license, new sex parts, and access to substances can lead to some not good results. But still, this long and some times tedious remodeling process that our bodies go through in the teenage years, isn’t all that. Many scientists have pointed out that our delayed adolescence lets our brains keep their flexibility longer, which Yeah, may make teens a little slow, but also more adaptable, as they prepare for the adult world. In this way, you can see teen impulsiveness as boldness; or independent thinking, and moodiness, as a source of new found empathy; and excitability, as passion. Which means, there’s a lot of awesome energy floating around out there ready to decrease all kinds of world sigh Thanks for watching the SciShow, and thanks specially to all of our subscribers on Subbable, who make this channel possible! 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100 comments on “The Teenage Brain Explained

  1. A1ien by default Post author

    What if you run into the issue were you start seperating home and school? I have work I need to get done at home. But I'm never really able to stay focused on it. At school it's no problem.

    Reply
  2. Willinat003 Post author

    7:10 I feel that when he says that, he is still being a teen himself. Tbh I used to think my parents didn’t understand, but through maturity I realized that a lot of the stuff I went through they also went through. Yes I’d agree not every decision they make is beneficial, so he does have a point, but still there’s a lot your parents understand that you may not think they do, it’s a matter of time that will get you through that phase. I’m 14 btw

    Reply
  3. sakura hoor Post author

    Teenager life sucks as hell 20s and early 10 years are the best time of life idk about mid age

    Reply
  4. MarioMan Post author

    School : You must sleep well, it's important.
    Also school : HERE YA GO TONS OVER TONS OF HOMEWORKKKK

    Reply
  5. indecisive clock Post author

    It’s so annoying seeing people my age claiming and self diagnosing themselves with depression. I understand it’s hard to tell but don’t downgrade other people’s actual possible depression with your “i have depression” and “people never understand”

    Reply
  6. Aki Animations Post author

    Being a teenager is like mixing Gatorade into Coffee and smelling colours. Seven years of very confused noises.

    Reply
  7. Katie Post author

    Tbh, I've never been as emotional or moody as they say teens are, and I usually make pretty rational decisions. 🤷

    Reply
  8. I safe ih Post author

    The only thing my teenage brain understood from 10min vid is tjat teens lose sleep cuz we're watching reruns of the simpsons and playing call of duty but he forgot on thing
    HOURS OF HOMEWORK

    Reply
  9. Esqueleto Sangrento Post author

    Funny how there's a whole scientific explanation to why teenagers are mostly dumb, tired and emotionally conflicted and yet adults don't even try to help or at least understand it, even tho they already experienced that and know how it feels.

    Reply
  10. MyTube Post author

    it's difficult but somehow it's so interesting and amazing how we feel everything intensely at the same time

    Reply
  11. Charlie Lee Post author

    Can you make a vid explaining if full dive technology is possible? Things like controlling an avatar in game while you’re unconscious, using your brain. Watch/read sword art online if you have no idea what I’m talking about. (Also a vid on augmented reality would be awesome to 👍) love your videos. 😁

    Reply
  12. insert decent name here Post author

    Puberty is when your mom takes you to an orthodontist appointment for the first two periods of school only so you can get home and help her move stuff at her apartment because there’s an hour before you have to be back at school so then when she finally takes you to school the car is so packed that you’re in the back seat sitting on a scooter with a bunch of pillows and trash bags and then tell you she’s leaving for a job in Dallas and is leaving because “She’s not wanted here” and we’re “emotionally abusive”, despite the fact that she horrifically abuses you using a method that has been linked to nine child deaths that she got from a cult, and then sit in complete silence so she can drop you off two minutes later so you can go through the last two periods of the day and stay after school and then walk the two miles home along the highway because your usual ride is gone and never coming back

    Reply
  13. Kushagra deep Post author

    TEENAGERS ARE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD CREATURES……THEY ARE TREATED LIKE KIDS AND ARE EXPECTED TO ACT LIKE ADULTS

    Reply
  14. Raw Onions Post author

    If only parents weren’t so stubborn about their boomer ideas and actually researched how children work

    Reply
  15. DannyDaDuffyDucking Daffer Post author

    There's a reason for me to be "moody" there's just alot of annoying stuff like why TF is my ************* pencil dropping and ya know I just might be lonely after singing in the shower 🤷‍♂️

    Reply
  16. DannyDaDuffyDucking Daffer Post author

    Fun Fact: Old people go through reverse puberty until they're basically babies again

    Reply
  17. DannyDaDuffyDucking Daffer Post author

    You're a teen now start thinking about college and what you wanna do for your life
    Brain: woah maintenance just started what you mean???

    Reply
  18. ResidualSelfImage Post author

    Sex hormones for non human life forms is limited to limit the cost of reproduction for the species. Puberty and Adult Human sex hormones is designed to be flexible depending so human reproduced not based on yearly season but on opportunity. During the Teenage years there is an opportunity for cognitive development of the sense of time and of the ability to plan the future. Negative emotions and environmental barriers can impede or prevent cognitive development …brain cognitive and psychological development is not genetic but epigenetic in nature.

    Reply
  19. michelle youtube Post author

    Thank God now I have an exscuse to why I finish 3 to 4 seasons of a tv series in less than a week

    Reply
  20. I hate Everything Post author

    How about you get suspended because of your tall hair imagine that please + this kinda of rules is on middle east

    Reply
  21. Stuart McGill Post author

    Pretty much the same as the adult male brain anyhow……. beer, eat, sex, sleep…. blah blah blah

    Reply
  22. Tiffany Henderson Post author

    Kids always talk ab how they get so much homework but I was in honors for two of my three years in high school (I dropped out) but I never had more than 2 hours of homework a night (usually about 45 min tbh) same thing with all my friends. Do your homework as soon as you get home and you won’t have a problem. Most of y’all are just on y’all’s phone but wanna blame in on school. Y’all are gonna get a real job one day and you’re gonna piss everyone off if you complain ab it like you do ab school. Seriously grow tf up

    Reply
  23. Party Tomorrow Post author

    i hate over controlling parents i mean your kid is 13 and they wont invent anything if they only study lol i mean come on enjoy life and connect online its so stupid for parents not to involve their kids to turn them into social media stars i mean okay if the kid needs help or needs a friend they can go to their fans but if someone that studies for a living sure they might be more successful but they wont understand the adult world then they will be single parents etc…. or crazy cat lady or peeping toms

    Reply
  24. Party Tomorrow Post author

    let them enjoy their friends let them have fun but also be very responsible its really not that hard to understand you are just torturing the kids childhood be loose with them not full wardenly strict

    Reply
  25. Eva Dzutseva Post author

    School :
    We want to make sure you're getting enough sleep

    But wake up at 5:25

    Oh and you have an essay due tmrw!

    Reply
  26. Christian Portillo Post author

    Am I the only one up at midnight and hear that sleep is important and jumps to fall asleep ok NIGUT

    Reply

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