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Parenting and the adolescent brain

Posted Oct 23 2008 1:35pm
I talked with a couple hundred New Trier High School students today about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the adolescent brain.

It is interesting, as I have delved into this topic I better understand why adolescents act and think the way that they do because of the “construction” going on in their brains. But, as a parent, I still often react differently than one with that understanding seemingly ought to.

“What were you thinking when…?” Despite the fact that I know that cognitive control of behavior in an adolescent relies more heavily on the developing prefrontal cortex and that that is easily overwhelmed when the adolescent is “stressed” (stressed in the broadest sense). There is no hippocampal “back-up” as there is in an adult. So, in fact, when “stressed” the adolescent really isn’t thinking it through, there is no “executive processing”.

“Why are you so moody/Why are you in a bad mood?” Despite the fact that I know that the mesocorticolimbic system is still forming causing fluctuations in emotional perception and the ability to solidify assigning emotional value to a thought, action, or attitude. Also, I know that allopregnalone (a hormone released when an individual is “stressed”) works differently in the adolescent brain than in the adult. There are different receptors in the adolescent brain that makes this more excitatory than its calming function in the adult brain (allowing you to pause and reflect on options).

No doubt this dichotomy will persist, but at least with my knowledge (and a bit of help from allopregnalone), I can pause and analyze it somewhat after the fact. I continue to work on narrowing that time, so that that “after the fact” can occur while the discussion is still going on with my teen child and I can bring it into that discussion.
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