Module 5 Notes
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4

Adolescents and the Brain

Section 2, Article 2 - During adolescence, the human brain does not grow much in size. However, the brain continues to grow in complexity and connectivity, particularly in areas dedicated to cognitive and emotional processes (). Not all parts of the brain develop at the same rate. For example, maturation and myelination begin with the inner lower brain and proceed to the outer prefrontal cortex (). The limbic system is the emotional center of the brain responsible for processing fear and anxiety, and this matures before the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotional regulation (). Read more about dynamic mapping of human cortical development through early adulthood. (PDF)

As a consequence of the different rates of growth, many adolescents are quick to react and engage in risk-taking behavior. The reason for this unequal growth rate is the interaction between the timing of puberty and a lack of experience. Puberty sparks a surge of hormones, flooding the amygdala and causing the limbic system to grow. This has a greater impact on the interior subcortical regions of the brain than the exterior prefrontal cortex. Teenagers are fully grown before their brains are ready to engage the world in an adult manner with their emotions ruling their behavior. Maturation in the prefrontal cortex continues throughout the early adulthood years ().

Considering that impulsivity is linked with sensation-seeking and poor decisions, it is understandable that many view adolescent brain development in a negative light. However, there are benefits to slower inhibition and heightened emotions. During adolescence increased myelination paired with spontaneity causes reactions to be lightning fast and creativity to be heightened. In the teenage years, there are many “firsts” that shape the individual’s worldview. In Scripture, the Lord directs the enjoyment of this developmental stage: “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, NIV). Learning new things sometimes requires risks, and this trait of adolescence promotes the acquisition of new values, life lessons, skills, and self-knowledge.

Piaget’s Theory of Adolescent Cognitive Development
Thinking and Reasoning