Programs for Education

By Susan Ibarra 

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The Developing Teenage Brain

 Mapping The 

Human Brain

It’s a myth that at birth the brain is fully developed, like the heart or the stomach.  New studies, applying the use of modern technology, reveal surprising findings that show brain growth, patterns of development, reorganized connections and structural changes as a child grows and develops into adulthood.

For example, it was previously thought that grey matter growth was completed at about 18 months.  Grey matter is the “thinking” part of the brain.  However, current findings reveal that teenage grey matter waxes and wanes within the different functional brain areas at different times of development.  

Studies show that just prior to puberty that grey matter growth spurts predominate in the frontal lobe section.  This is the corner stone of where executive functions take place, i.e. planning, impulse control and reasoning.  However at about ages 11 and 12 in both girls and boys, this growth peaks, after which this grey matter actually thins a bit.

Compared to the brain’s white matter, this area shows progressive thickening from birth in humans.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), other studies suggest how a teen may process emotions differently compared to adults.  Based on brain activity during actual testing of teenagers, younger teens performed poorly, as this test activated the amygdala, located deep in the center of the brain.  This part of the brain is responsible for fear and gut reactions.  As teens grow older, the brain activity shifts to the frontal lobe, resulting in more reasoned perceptions and improved performance.

Likewise, when other skills tasks, such as language skills tasks were given, a shift from within the brain’s temporal lobe took place to the frontal lobe, as teens got older.  This and other functional changes were parallel to the structural changes taking place in the temporal white matter.

Within our complex brains there are billions of neurons and their dendrites, which resemble wire-like fibers.  These dendrites are the wiring or the intricate network of connections.  Insulation called myelin, envelopes these fibers rendering them more efficient with improved conductivity.  Specialized methods can provide a magnified view of the neuron and its many dendrites revealing that nerve cells are highly interconnected whereby each nerve cell may make thousands upon thousands of connections with other nerve cells from each dendrite.

These connections allow neural communication to take place.  Understanding how neural communication occurs is one key to understanding how memories are stored and how learning occurs.  Disruption of normal activity at these connections can be part of the cause leading to various disorders, learning disabilities and mental illness.  It is here that perhaps solutions to these problems will one day be found.

Dr. Elyse O’Desky, Pediatric Neuro-Psychologist for the Neurological Testing Center and Professor at Kean University  has presented the topic about The Developing Teenage Brain & Executive Functions along with many conditions that can effect children through Programs for Education sponsored by The CHILD Organization. Professional development hours are also available for this program.  

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