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The Adolescent Brain

The Adolescent Brain. Janet Matthews and Sarah Ramowski. Adolescent Evolution. ages 11 – 24 Amygdala driven Dopamine sensitive Filter deficient Risk prone Sensation-seeking Peer presence. Learning Ladder. Novice to expert. Unconscious; competent. Conscious; competent.

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The Adolescent Brain

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  1. The Adolescent Brain Janet Matthews and Sarah Ramowski

  2. Adolescent Evolution • ages 11 – 24 • Amygdala driven • Dopamine sensitive • Filter deficient • Risk prone • Sensation-seeking • Peer presence

  3. Learning Ladder • Novice to expert Unconscious; competent Conscious; competent Conscious; incompetent Unconscious; incompetent

  4. Functional Evolution • Amphibian ~ Mammal • Autopsy ~ MRI • Primitive ~ Cerebral • Myelination

  5. Emotional evolution • Affect • Shame ~ Guilt • Eustress ~ distress • Self talk emerges • Puberty ~ maturity

  6. Adolescent Prevention Messages • Repetition • Fiber tract sculpting • Myelinates tracts • Pruning • Lifestyle impact • Increase voluntary control • Brain > Mind

  7. The Big Picture • Adolescence is incredibly exciting time in brain development…therefore, also crucial that we nurture adolescent brains • Change our thinking about adolescents and risk taking

  8. How Do We Know What We Know? • MRI pictures show brain structures & sites of activity • New: DTI (diffusion tenor imaging) shows color images of neural fibers that transmit signals

  9. The Physical • “AA” sites in brain – “Appearance Attractiveness” – 5x higher in youth than adults

  10. The Emotional • Compared to adult brain, adolescent brain perceives emotions at 2-4x the intensity • Adolescents have 3 basic needs in coping with emotional intensity: 1) Listen; 2) Validate; 3) Support good choices • Adults often use 3 “D’s”: 1) Deny 2) Diminish 3) Disrespect

  11. Emotional Safety • Setting the rules for emotional safety is crucial for promoting safety and healthy positive development among youth. • Compliments given to adolescents should be very careful – based on behavioral observations

  12. Problem Solving • THP helps adults cope in crisis (calming effect), but in youth it causes anxiety/apprehension • “You need to calm down” is not effective in the moment when THP is activated • Avg 13.6 yrs when youth shift to willingness to engage adults in open conflict – this is NORMAL development

  13. Risk Taking • Risk  Reward in Adolescent Brains via Nucleus Accumbens • Teens need safe risk-taking opportunities • Preventing risk-taking: here and now of consequences, not future

  14. Risk Taking & the Internet • Perspective taking • Future thought • Online disinhibition effect • Virtual Mystery Tour: healthysexedu.blogspot.com

  15. Substance Use • AvoidBoredom • 10 – 14 is key window to avoid for alcohol use • Brain is beyond plasticity window, and this is the time where cell mapping & migration process is the highest

  16. Substance Use • Pathways activated by alcohol in < 22 y.o. brains can remain excited for 48 hrs after drinking, brain cells self-destruct • Having a male older sibling, especially for boys, is a risk factor for trying drugs/alcohol (often the “first route” into drugs/alc). • Effects of marijuana on brain are increasingly unknown (depending on delivery system)

  17. Gender Differences • Female brains have average 29% more verbal capacity (relative to brain size overall) vs. male brains • Are girls “more emotional” than boys? No. • Positive self-esteem between ages 9-10 and 13-14: for boys it drops 12-20%, for girls it drops 20-38%

  18. Take Away Messages • Emotions, reasoning, and decision-making are all under construction during adolescence • Time of vulnerability AND capability • Adults can help by de-personalizing teenage behavior • Adolescents need positive adult framing & support for making good choices

  19. Resources • The Adolescent Brain: A Work in Progress. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/reading/pdf/BRAIN.pdf • Brizendine, Luann. The Female Brain. • The Dana Foundation. www.dana.org (new relevant research in brain development) • The Brain Connection. www.brainconnection.com

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