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Understanding the ‘Teenage Brain’ Can Help Parents

first_imgChildhood behavioral expert Jim Harris says if it seems as though your teen’s brain works differently from yours, that’s because it does. (Photo credit: Dan Heyman/Public News Service.)Maybe your teen’s brain doesn’t work the same way yours does – but a childhood behavioral expert says new research can help parents better understand their adolescent son or daughter.Jim Harris, who works at Marshall University to improve behavioral practices in schools, said research suggests the risky experimentation kids seem drawn to is partially the result of biological changes in their brains. Harris said the adolescent brain is pushing its owner to be ready to go out into the world as an adult.“It’s encouraging risk-taking, novelty-seeking, in an effort to get kids to leave what are oftentimes safe, secure, situations to go out and experiment and venture into adulthood,” he said.The assumption often is to blame hormones and teens’ newly-awakened sex drive – but it’s deeper than that, said Harris, a clinical social worker who serves as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports coordinator at Marshall’s Autism Training Center. Teens may be getting ready to start their own families, Harris said, but their brains also are changing in other ways.Take the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain in charge of rational decision-making and impulse control. In a teen, Harris said, it’s still developing, in part by experience and experimentation. In most people, he added, it hasn’t fully developed until their 20s.“It’s not that they’re not necessarily rational,” Harris said. “It’s just that they’re fine-tuning their rational process.”Despite parents’ frustrations with them, teens still need guidance and support, he said.Harris recently spoke at the largest social workers’ conference in the nation. He called his talk, “A Teenager’s Brain: A Scary Place to Go Alone.” Not only can the mind of an adolescent be a strange landscape for an adult, but Harris said the teen should not have to go through these changes alone.“The worst thing a parent can do at that stage is detach,” he said. “If a parent detaches, then they’re kind of leaving society – media, things like that – to kind of step in.”News Servicelast_img read more

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