Impulsiveness in adolescence isn’t just a phase; it’s biology. And despite all the social factors that define our teen years, the human brain and the brains of other primates go through very similar changes, particularly in the areas that affect self-control. Two researchers review the adolescent brain across species on August 20 in the journal Trends in Neurosciences.
“As is widely known, adolescence is a time of heightened impulsivity and sensation seeking, leading to questionable choices. However, this behavioral tendency is based on an adaptive neurobiological process that is crucial for molding the brain based on gaining new experiences,” says Beatriz Luna of the University of Pittsburgh, who co-authored the review with Christos Constantinidis of Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Taking risks and having thrilling adventures during this period isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “You don’t have this perfect inhibitory control system in adolescence, but that’s happening for a reason. It has survived evolution because it’s actually allowing for new experiences to provide information about the environment that is critical form optimal specialization of the brain to occur,” Luna says.
This all suggests that self-control isn’t just about the ability, in the moment, to inhibit a behavior. “Executive function involves not only reflexive responses but actually being prepared ahead of time to create an appropriate plan. This is the change between the adolescent and adult brain and it is strikingly clear both in the human data and in the animal data,” says Constantinidis.
Ultimately, the authors believe that this phase of development is essential to shaping the adult brain. “It is important for there to be a period where the animal or the human is actively encouraged to explore because gaining these new experiences will help mold what the adult trajectories are going to be,” says Luna. “It’s important to have this conversation and comparison between human and animal models so that we can understand the neural mechanisms that underlie vulnerability during this time for impaired development such as in mental illness, which often emerges in adolescence, but importantly to inform us in how to find ways to correct those trajectories.”
It is also important to remember that social skills increase significantly in nuance and sophistication with age. Some adolescents’ “errors” are due to the fact that they simply don’t recognize that social rules have changed. These children and teens need additional guidance in adapting their behavior effectively based on the situation and what they know about the people involved. This assistance will help illicit the reaction and response that are the social mores.
As the founder of Fitness for Health, a state-of-the-art, therapeutic, fitness center working with children and adults to maintain weight management, obtain occupational therapy or physical therapy, or members of the special needs community to reach their full physical potential, how can I help families develop the ability to better interpret/respond to social interactions?
Fitness for Health is proud to once again offer B Social Teen Hangouts to help teenagers develop their social skills throughout the new school year.
This unique program for ages 11-17 will combine the introduction of social thinking concepts with motor development. Tweens and teens will receive didactic teaching followed by practice in a small group led by Sue Abrams, M.A. CCC-SLP (speech pathologist with Center for Communication and Learning) and Fitness for Health staff.
Sessions will take place on September 27, October 25, and December 6 from 7pm – 8pm at Fitness for Health located at 11140 Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD. One session is $99 or all three sessions are $225. Call 301-231-7138 for more information.