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Adolescent Brain Development (and What You Can Do about it!) Jenny Berz, PhD Clinical Psychologist First Friday Coffee December 2, 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "Adolescent Brain Development (and What You Can Do about it!) Jenny Berz, PhD Clinical Psychologist First Friday Coffee December 2, 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 Adolescent Brain Development (and What You Can Do about it!) Jenny Berz, PhD Clinical Psychologist First Friday Coffee December 2, 2011

2 Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love of gossip in place of exercise; they contradict their parents, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers. -Socrates, 5 th Century B.C.

3 “Our age is a really awkward stage because there are some people who are practically grown up who talk about drugs and sex and stuff but there are also a bunch of people who still act really little and it feels almost impossible to be in between.” -Lincoln School 6 th Grader

4 Adolescence: 4 Major Changes 1. Rapid Physical Changes 2. Emotional / Psychological Changes 3. Shift from Parents to Peers 4. Brain Transformation

5 Rapid Physical Changes Growth Spurts Voice Changes Hair Growth Skin Problems Development of Sex Organs Breast Development in Girls

6 Emotional /Psychological Changes Become more self-conscious Increase in self-doubt Decrease in security of childhood Worry about what is to come

7 From Parents to Peers New and powerful voice that rises up in children: “Turn Away From Childhood!” Peers soothe the insecurities brought on by self- consciousness and self-doubt. Teens are most influenced by peers between age 14 and 16 years.

8 A Brain Transformed Much, if not all, of the behavior we term “problematic” in teens in caused by changes in the brain.

9 3 Major Transformations Overproduction Pruning Myelination

10 Overproduction Experiences create dendrites in the brain. Dendrites are small, hair like structures that emerge from neurons: Neurons are the brain cells most closely linked to learning.

11 Overproduction (continued) Between ages 12 and 20 (or older) there is an overproduction of dendrites and synaptic connections in the brain. This means that many aspects of the brain are being created anew. Short term memory increases 30% during the teen years! – It’s a great time to learn!

12 Pruning (aka “use it or lose it”) After overproduction, pruning, or the thinning out of brain cells, takes place. Brain cells that are used regularly are kept. The rest are destroyed. In other words, information used regularly is that which is deemed “important enough” for the brain to keep and is therefore easier to remember.

13 Pruning (continued) In children under 12 years and adults, 1 to 2% of the brain is pruned each year. During adolescence, 15% of the synaptic connections pruned away each year. That’s 15% of all information stored! The brain is becoming more efficient at this time.

14 Pruning (continued) Window of Opportunity ▫Learning to control temper ▫Developing relationships ▫Expand communication skills  Never is it easier to learn these skills and never will we be more motivated! Window of Sensitivity ▫More sensitive to toxic chemicals

15 Myelination Myelin = A fatty substance that insulates neurons and allows for communication to occur throughout the brain more efficiently. This is the final part of the maturation process. The Frontal Lobe is the last part of the brain to be myelinated.

16 The Adolescent Brain in 2 Parts Amygdala Frontal Lobes

17 Amygdala An almond shaped mass that is responsible for hormonal releases, emotional responses and arousal. Teens rely heavily on this part of the brain to process information.

18 Frontal Lobes The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior. The frontal lobes are the last to develop. They continue to develop until age 30.

19 Amygdala and Frontal Lobes: Important in social interactions Teens are less able to accurately distinguish between emotions conveyed by facial expressions. Their ability to recognize others’ emotions is weaker by 20% until age 18. In fact, it is weaker at age than at age 10!

20 The Fear Study Yurgelun-Todd (2006) research study on teen brain. Presented teens and adults with a picture of a woman who had an expression of fear on her face. 100% of adults correctly ID’d emotion as fear. 50% of teens made correct ID. The other 50% said it was shock or sadness.

21 The Fear Study (continued) The researchers continued the study using fMRI. Found that all adults used their frontal lobe (part of brain used for well-thought-out decisions and analyzing) to ID emotion. Teens (left) used less of the prefrontal (upper) region than adults (right) when reading emotion.

22 Results of Yurgelun-Todd’s study may illustrate why teens make so many misinterpretations and have so many misunderstandings. They rely more on an emotional part of the brain to interpret body language as well as verbal information.  Parent’s stare  Girl turning head away across the room  “Drive safely”

23 The Chemical Brain Another important aspect of brain transformation: The Chemical Brain

24 Chemical Brain DOPAMINE (The “feel good” neurotransmitter) Teens are at greatest risk for alcohol and tobacco addiction between years. Because… teens are more sensitive to pleasurable effects of nicotine and alcohol. teens are less sensitive to adverse effects of these substances. teens are thus predisposed to novelty-seeking behaviors.

25 Chemical Brain (continued) TEXTING ▫Dopamine centers in the brain light up when texting similarly to the way they do with drugs or alcohol. ▫Teens are texting an average of 100x/day (3,000 x/month). Each time = dopamine surge. Body must create more and more dopamine to keep up with the demand. ▫Body can get overworked and not produce enough dopamine to maintain feeling of “normal”. ▫Pre-teens and teens are texting day and night (sleep disorders). ▫Texting and driving (before part of brain that helps with impulse control is fully developed.)

26 The use of drugs and alcohol cause a surge in dopamine production. The brain remembers the feeling of pleasure associated with these substances and behaviors. A cycle begins — as the person continues to engage in the pleasurable activity or use the outside substance, the body produces more dopamine to meet the need. The body can eventually become overworked, thus limiting the amount of dopamine it is able to produce. This decreased production sends the message for increased use of the outside substances or behaviors, further overworking the pleasure center of the brain. Once this cycle has begun, the normal levels of dopamine no longer seem sufficient to the body. This causes the brain to require an increasing amount of the outside substances and behaviors to get to a state of emotional “normal”. There is no longer a great high associated with their use, and as the cycle continues, the brain never really gets back to “feeling good”. This brings on a depression during sober periods and solidifies the need to continue using, because it begins to feel as though there will be no feelings of pleasure without it, ever!! The addict has lost control over the intake of the addictive substance or use of the addictive behavior.

27 So What Does This Mean? Brain transformation process is uneven and sometimes messy. Brain transformation has side effects: 1. Disorganization  Middle Schoolers have a particularly hard time getting organized! 2. Poor Decision Making

28 What does this mean? (continued) Teens process information differently than adults. Teens are generally not capable of making what we think of as “good judgments” because the brain power to do so is still in its infancy. (But they will get there with our support!) Young teens are not capable of thinking through to the consequences of their actions. (We need to help them with this.)

29 What does this mean (continued) Teens are challenged by the concept of time. For a middle schooler, “the future” = 2:20pm (when school gets out). Such limited vision leads to short-sighted actions. By age 14 most teens have a better sense of time, but until then it is MUCH harder to grasp ideas of cause and effect and delayed gratification.

30 What does this mean? (continued) Teens have difficulty interpreting others’ emotions as well as their own. (We can help them with this, too!) Teens can be fun, interesting, spontaneous and thoughtful. And they are ripe for learning sound time management, communication and study skills.

31 What Can We Do?

32 Some Helpful Ideas… 1.Practice tasks that enhance frontal lobe functioning 2.Emphasize importance of emotional states 3.Provide guidance 4.Communicate Communicate Communicate

33 1. Enhance Frontal Lobe Functioning Include daily tasks that require delayed gratification, mental juggling or persistence. This helps develop frontal lobe functioning.  Examples: music, art, delicate experiments, constructing something, long-term assignments. Have them practice things you want them to do. ▫Time management ▫Study skills ▫Control their temper ▫Communicate well Remember: Use it or Lose it!

34 2. Emphasize Importance of Emotions Journal about feelings Discuss emotional states with other students and adults Drama, theatre, role plays Talk about competing emotional states **Self-reflection helps with emotion regulation. Practicing this strengthens emotion regulation connections in the brain = MATURATION

35 3. Provide guidance Expect that most adolescents will not be able to appreciate the array of options available to them. So they lie more. Since they can’t see options, they assume the lie will get them out of the bind. Offer and repeat choices. Brainstorm choices with them. Help guide them through tougher decisions. Don’t lecture them.

36 Communicate (so teens can understand) Do not use confusing body language (shrugs, eye rolls, smirks, stares). Be clear. ▫Instead of :  “Don’t be late”, say, “Be home by 6pm.”  “Clean your room”, say, “Make your bed and put your clothes in the hamper.”  “Finish your assignment by Friday,” give students an example of how they might break the assignment up over the course of the week. Be straightforward. Not sarcastic or patronizing. Understand that teen frontal lobes may not be good at storing many ideas at one time. When giving directions, give just one at a time.

37 Communicate(so teens will understand)-continued Allow teens to have the last word (even if it is an unpleasant one). It is more important for your teen to have the last word than it is for you. And remember, it is more important to be generous and to let them express themselves than it is to be right or to have the final say.  This teaches them to communicate and gives them more confidence in their ability to do so.

38 Summary Teens are going through multiple physical, emotional, social, psychological and biological (brain) changes at once. Often these changes manifest in an outward expression that is seen as unpleasant (or worse) by adults. Try to consider what your children are going through and how you can help guide them to the next level of development.

39 And remember… Parenting middle schoolers is not an easy job and it’s not intuitive. Read books Talk to others who know teens Attend workshops Take time for yourself Take deep breaths Get professional help if needed


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