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Toys to Teens: A Sneak Peek into the Adolescent Brain

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

"Children…they grow up so fast." - I am sure many parents will relate to this phrase. One fine day, the dolls, cars, and pretend play are all replaced with socialising, video games, new hobbies, etc. Soon, our little ones are not so little any more. With today's generation hitting puberty at early ages than in the past, as parents, we get very few of those precious innocent years with our children.


Adolescence Phase

Teens

Adolescence is a delicate stage of life and a significant period between childhood and adulthood. Have you ever wondered what happens internally in our bodies during this phase? Children go through a myriad of changes, which can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing for them. So, it's essential to understand what and why it is happening so that we can provide the proper support.


It's really fascinating to learn how things transform during this delicate stage of life, as many developmental changes happen simultaneously in our bodies. It is not just physical but also emotional and cognitive changes that occur in our bodies. The brain undergoes significant shifts, both structurally and functionally. Consequently, it impacts our behaviour and shapes our self-identity.


Brain - Prefrontal Cortex & Amygdala

Did you know our brain develops from the back to the front? Yes! The prefrontal cortex, which sits in the frontal lobe, is the last part of the brain to develop fully. The prefrontal cortex is the most crucial region as it supports all executive functions, such as problem-solving, decision-making, self-control, etc. This region grows rapidly in the adolescent phase. So, we see children learn faster and quicker as they grow into teens than in early childhood.


As the prefrontal cortex grows, its connection with other brain parts strengthens. The amygdala is another vital part of the brain that undergoes significant changes. The amygdala is responsible for processing our emotions and responding to them. For example, when we experience some threat or danger, our body quickly reacts. The amygdala triggers this response, commonly called the 'flight, fright or freeze' response. So, basically, it plays a crucial role in emotional processing. And it becomes more sensitive to emotional cues during this adolescent developmental stage.


Impact on Children's Behaviour

As the brain grows, we see our kids becoming more independent and forming their own opinions and views. They want to make their own decisions about life. The intriguing part is that the amygdala matures early. In contrast, the prefrontal cortex keeps growing well into adulthood, usually up to 20-25 years of age. Until then, decision-making is primarily supported by the amygdala along with the prefrontal cortex. Therefore, teens tend to react emotionally to even minor conflicts, unlike adults. Many times, they find it challenging to regulate their emotions. So, teens often make irrational decisions impulsively based on emotions. But, sometimes, this behaviour can adversely affect them. This fast learning, independence, and impulsive decision-making can also lead them to pick up bad habits quickly.


Role of Parents

Parents' and teachers' support is crucial in this tender phase of our teens' lives. We, as adults, need to provide a nurturing environment right through their middle school and college years, helping children transition well into adulthood. Understanding the changes in the adolescent brain and how they impact behaviour and emotions can help us as parents, teachers, and caregivers better support our teenagers through this challenging but exciting period of life. This transition from toys to teens is natural as they grow up. It's a thrilling time of growth and exploration. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep help the teen brain develop optimally. But children need much more than this. The key is openly communicating with our children and supporting them with the right life skills.


How do Life Skills come into play?

As the body changes physically, teens become more aware of their bodies. Knowingly or unknowingly, some become self-conscious about their appearance. Few may even go to the extent of disliking themselves for how they look. Developing a healthy body image and accepting ourselves as-is is very important. It helps build confidence and self-esteem. Positive self-talk, affirmations, along with mindfulness skills help youngsters. These skills develop self-compassion and reduce negative thoughts.


As children grow emotionally, they tend to give a lot of importance to how well they are accepted socially. Peer relationships take a front seat. They look for security and support in these relationships. In such cases, the quality of social relationships is crucial. Children must form positive connections with family, friends and peers. Social awareness and relationship skills provide the correct guidance during this phase.


Teenagers also encounter new and different social situations as their social circle expands. Communication skills are an essential skill that helps them navigate these events, at times even challenging social situations. It helps them build empathy, be assertive and handle conflicts. Effective communication skills assist and encourage children to communicate openly with family members.


As children grow, so do their academics, extracurricular activities and socialising. At times, they struggle to balance their work and have fun. They might get overwhelmed and stressed with the pressures when they cannot handle and manage their time. Developing time management skills helps them prioritise tasks, manage their time effectively and reduce stress. It helps them avoid getting distracted, improves their focus and helps them achieve goals.


Children need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs as it builds their character. These qualities help them make informed decisions. For example, you know you tend to procrastinate. In that case, plan your work with a timetable or a work tracker that lets you track your progress. But this will only come through if you are self-aware. Self-awareness skills help you understand yourself and your emotions, thoughts and behaviours. Decision-making and problem-solving skills complement the other life skills to help teenagers make healthy choices, drive career paths and manage conflicts.


With changes in the brain's limbic system and heightened emotions, teenagers experience mood swings that can sometimes lead to anxiety and depression. External factors like peer pressure and academic strain exacerbate these emotions. Self-management skills through different breathing & relaxation techniques can help teens cope with these changes. It also builds their self-efficacy.


Summary


Research shows that life skills positively impact children's brains and improve mental health and well-being. Children need opportunities to learn these life skills through practice and feedback. Hence, it is essential to provide our teenagers with appropriate tools that help them develop these life skills. By supporting the growth and development of the prefrontal cortex, we can help teenagers make better decisions and steer them away from harmful behaviours. It will help them navigate this stage of life confidently, making them resilient and well-rounded individuals ready to face the challenges of the 21st century.




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Mitali Dighe
Mitali Dighe
May 07, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This was really insightful, loved it

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Chaitali Raje
Chaitali Raje
May 04, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Well describe.....

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Charmi Maru
Charmi Maru
May 04, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Wonderful.. Much needed

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