The period of adolescence can be a daunting one for parents of teenagers to navigate. This period can already begin just after 11 years of age. But it is at about 12 years of age that a major increase of neurons and synapses in the frontal cortex of a teenager begins. For most adults the frontal cortex is responsible for emotional regulation and complex reasoning, however this has not yet been properly developed for the adolescent.
Before the rational brain can fully develop there is a period of pruning of synapses between the ages of 12-18 years resulting in a loss of 50% of grey matter from the frontal cortex. In contrast, the Amygdala is the part of the brain stimulated the most when adolescents respond to stimuli (part of the brain responsible for raw emotions). As such, strong emotional reactions and ups and downs are NORMAL!
Which all means that Adolescence = biggest brain change since the first year of life.
All the rapid changes in adolescence leads to more cortisol (stress hormone), more dopamine (excitement seeking, mood swings) and hormonal instability. For boys more testosterone leads to aggressive behaviour. Social skills deficits (arguments, over-reaction) are also common. There is the tendency to make inappropriate remarks, difficulty in grasping the moral of a story, difficulty in planning ahead, and difficulty in self-regulation of actions and emotions.
The onset of adolescence can then become a trigger for risk taking behaviours. There can also be more specific triggers for risk taking such as: lack of social/emotional skills; lack of positive role models; lack of supervision/monitoring; lack of positive friendships; hormonal instability; low self-esteem; boredom; lack of positive interactions; and bullying to name a few.
However, risk taking is a normal part of growing up and is not just about danger. There can also be healthy risk taking that is important for developing and consolidating identity. There can be several types of risk takers: cautious, middle of the road, adventurer, high-end (thrill seeker).
Depending on the level of risk involved certain safety rules can be important in keeping harm to a minimum. These might involve guidelines such as:
• Know where your children are and make sure they are contactable
• Parties best kept in your house (despite mess!)
• Pick teenagers up from parties/outings
• Best for teenagers to walk in groups of 3 or more
• Always have emergency numbers in their phones
• If possible keep computers at home in public places
• Set up simple and clear safety plans prior to parties
An open, solution focused communication style at home that encourages understanding of each other and that develops empathy can go a long way towards helping teenagers ride out the storm of adolescence.
Dr Kristofer Ojala
Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.
Blog written by CBT Professionals Clinical Psychologist on the Gold Coast, Dr Kristofer Ojala. CBT Professionals are a team of clinical psychologists on the Gold Coast with offices in Coomera and Nerang. Gold Coast CBT psychologists offer services to adults, children, and couples. Please call and make an appointment on 07 5668 3490.