How does the brain change during the teenage years?

During the teen years, under the influence of massive new hormonal messages, as well as current needs and experiences, the teenager’s brain is being reshaped, and reconstructed. Information highways are being speeded up (a process called myelination), and some old routes, closed down (this is called pruning); some are re-routed and reconnected to other destinations. And above all, old information highways are making lots of new connections to other highways, and other cites and towns (this is called sprouting). It’s a massive construction project, unlike anything that occurs at any other time in life. In such a situation, things rarely flow smoothly, and surprise destinations thrive. This reconstruction explains why the personality and stability that was evident just a year or two before adolescence recedes, and suddenly new perspectives, and reactions abound.

One of the important things to remember is that what a teen does and is exposed to during this critical time in life has a large influence on the teen’s future, because experience and current needs shape the pruning and sprouting process in the brain. So if a teen is playing lots of video games, this will shape the brain in such a way that they might become an excellent fighter pilot, but becoming an accountant or researcher will be less possible. Being the class clown will help make a good sales person later on, and running for class president will develop brain skills that are needed to run a business or take on a management position. Being exposed to drugs, computer sex, or violent movies will also shape the brain and future of the adolescent, laying down the seeds of addiction and interpersonal conflict.

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