What every adult needs to know about the adolescent brain

 In Better Life, Relationships

Several months ago I stumbled upon a video of Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, talking about new research that reveals how drastically an adolescent’s brain changes and how that affects their behavior.  I was instantly fascinated and intrigued by how this understanding could help all of us with our interactions with teens. My daughter will be 10 years old in August but I am already catching glimpses of adolescent tendencies and realizing I’m going to need all the insights I can get.

We start our life being very dependent on our parents or adults. Then along comes adolescent, the process of shifting from this dependence to independence, which is commonly associated with behavior that is perplexing, frustrating, and/or frightening to adults. Fascinating research in the last decade has discovered that there is a major remodeling of the brain that starts just before the teen years begin and continues well into the mid-twenties.  As part of the process, the adolescent brain experiences more intense emotions than a kid’s or adult’s brain. This can be very confusing for both them and the adults in their life because they become more moody, get upset more easily, and feel like their emotions are constantly changing without their control. Another noticeable result of these changes is that they become more motivated by their peers than their parents – an important step in preparing them to leave home.  Also, the types of things that catch their attention are changing. Hmmm.  That explains a few things!

How can this new information help us interact with the adolescents in our lives?  We can share this information to help them understand what is going on in their brains so they realize their intense and changing emotions is a natural process.  We can remember not to take their moods and attitudes personally. They are not trying to drive us crazy on purpose.   Instead, we can respond calmly, with patience and compassion, validating their feelings, while firmly setting boundaries.  I know – easier said than done. We can also be sure to build a strong relationship with them during these challenging years by remembering the positivity ratio – making sure we have at least 3 positive interactions with them for every one negative.

If you want to learn more, check out this video and article.


Tina Hallis, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and consultant for The Positive Edge.  She uses science to help people shift the way they think so they can achieve more success in their work and in their lives.  

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