Why Teens Think & Act The Way They Do
Teen Brains Are Still Developing
As adults, we need to remember teenagers' brains are literally still a work in progress. There are areas in their brains that aren’t fully formed or structured. Here are the specifics:
The number of neural connections in an adolescent’s brain is changing. According to an article from Science ABC, adolescents start losing connections in their brain that they don’t use anymore. So, their brains eventually become a more structured, efficient system.
Science ABC shares a great metaphor. Imagine the brain is like the map of a city with houses and roads. There’s one row of empty houses with 15 roads leading to it. It doesn’t make sense to keep maintaining these 15 roads, because no one is using them. This is where synaptic pruning comes in.
By the time we become adults, our brains have higher quality wiring, because we are not wasting time and energy maintaining useless connections anymore.
Prefrontal Cortex Development
In addition to quantity, the quality of the neural connections that still exist are vastly different.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, gives a fascinating TED Talk, The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain. She talks about how teens’ prefrontal cortex is going through dramatic development. This area of the brain is involved with planning, social interactions, and stopping yourself from saying something unpleasant.
The prefrontal cortex is sometimes called the “rational part of the brain”; it deals with logic and making choices. So, this explains teens’ risk-taking tendencies and occasional lack of common sense.
If you raise, teach, or guide teens and are asked to describe them, the word “emotional” is bound to come up. It’s not only because their hormones are running wild, but because their amygdala isn’t fully developed. This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, so it’s no wonder teens have difficulty regulating them.
According to PBS, “At the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and a group of researchers have studied how adolescents perceive emotion as compared to adults. The scientists looked at the brains of 18 children between the ages of 10 and 18 and compared them to 16 adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both groups were shown pictures of adult faces and asked to identify the emotion on the faces. Using fMRI, the researchers could trace what part of the brain responded as subjects were asked to identify the expression depicted in the picture.”
Teens had trouble responding to different emotions, probably because they’re not even correctly recognizing them, or recognizing them at all.
In adults, this is fully developed. We can regulate our emotions, (or at least our amygdala has the ability to do this!)
How to Use This Knowledge in Your Classroom
To work with teens’ ever-changing brains, it’s essential to teach with CREATIVITY. Be adaptable, use input that suits their brain processing, and be ready to problem-solve! Here are some things that will help you:
I've set up an email series to send you more info about teens, ideas, inspiration, and materials that will guide you through teaching teens.
Simply follow the link and enter your email to receive informational posts, tips, free materials, printable downloads, and updates! I'll offer you resources to make teaching teenagers easier, and I'll send you product info for those interested in diving even deeper into doodle notes, visual strategies, and more!
Use Pinterest to Help You
Any other Pinterest Addicts out there?! If you’re not already obsessed, you’re missing out.
This platform not only provides endless inspiration and countless classroom ideas and strategies, but some studies show that most teachers are heavily relying on it to help develop lesson plans and curriculum.
In case you missed it, I rounded up 8 of my all-time favorite Pinterest boards specifically for teaching teens (including some of my own I’ve been building to help you out!).
With these boards, there will never be a lack of fantastic ideas on your feed, including everything from top-notch behavior management techniques to uniquely engaging strategies!
Allow Them to Foster Their Own Creativity
Teaching creatively sometimes means letting THEM get creative. With strict standards and testing requirements, you might be shaking your head and thinking, “There’s just not enough time.”
But that may not be the case! Have you tried doodle notes yet? Doodle notes are doodle-friendly note sheets with embedded brain-based features that teachers can use as an introduction to a topic, extra practice, or even review. Instead of doing extra projects or “fluff” activities to add teen-friendly options, just replace your standard note taking with this method.
This creative strategy helps teens brains to STRENGTHEN the neural connections they need while they are still in the process of pruning those that they don't. The relaxation benefit also helps with regulating the emotions they struggle with due to the brain anatomy described above.
The brain benefits of blending the left and right hemispheres through creative teaching methods can help with these challenges during the teen years. When learning may not feel like a priority for them, creative teaching strategies can help a tough, overwhelming lesson seem approachable and less intimidating.
Incorporating color and doodling into lessons is actually proven to greatly improve students' focus and retention as well. Plus, they’re so fun and colorful! Students love them and will be proud to study from them and frequently reference them.
Join the Conversation
We have a facebook group designed just for you! It's completely free to join, and offers a place to touch base with other teachers of teenage students. All middle and high school teachers are welcome.
Comejoin the group, and then either sit back and read everyone else's insights, or dive in and ask a question. What do you need help with in your classroom? The group chat is a perfect place to ask for advice and chat with other teachers who get it!
So, the next time one of your teenage students does something like skip all homework assignments then BEG for extra credit (We’ve all been there, right?!) keep this neuroscience in mind. Their brains are just not fully developed!
To go back and read Part 1 of this series and learn about the difference between boy and girl teenage brains, click here.
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