Thoughts on the Teenage Brain

Earlier this year on NPR, Diane Rehm interviewed Daniel Siegel, author of a new book called Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. Siegel is a clinical psychiatrist at UCLA, and his research shows that adolescence is a time when humans “learn how to navigate the world outside the safety of home, how to connect deeply with others and how to safely take risks” (Rehm 2014). The interview with Siegel resonates with our EDR 551 class’s reading and viewing assignments this week on adolescent growth and development.

Siegel echoes Erin Morgan’s (2009) points about the amount of sleep teenagers require. This was one of the most surprising things I learned from this reading because when I was a teenager I rarely got more than six hours of sleep in a night, even on weekends. Siegel and Morgan also had similar things to say about the role that risk taking plays in teenager’s lives and makes similar suggestions about steering teenagers toward risks that are relatively safe in order to fill that need.

True to Morgan’s description, I was extremely cause-oriented as a teen and young adult, although I would not have described the majority of my peers at that time in the same way. I also identified with the deep need to establish and identity and to establish autonomy discussed by Morgan. Although I developed a habit of locking my bedroom door as a teenager, I would say that I would not necessarily agree that this was a benign establishment of autonomy. I was often up to no good.

Von Stultz’s (2011) discussion of the development of the brain, and the frontal lobe in particular, also echo points made by Siegel in his interview. Siegel says, “13 through 19, of course are named that because they’re teens. But in fact, the developmental period of change that we now understand in a very different way — because we can look into the way the brain is changing — actually extends between about 12 or 13 years of age all the way into the mid-20s.” This idea is very similar to what Von Stulz said about the frontal lobe of the brain not being fully developed until the mid-20s. Since the frontal lobe is in charge of things like decision making, planning, impulse control, and memory, this gives me a different perspective on experiences, beliefs, and decisions I recall from my early 20s (a period that, thank goodness, is safely buried two decades in the past now).

References

Morgan, Erin (2009). Adolescent growth and development. Retrieved from http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/350/350-850/350-850.html

Rehm, Diane (2014). Daniel Siegel: ‘Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain’. The Diane Rehm show. Retrieved fromhttp://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-01-06/daniel-siegel-brainstorm-power-and-purpose-teenage-brain

Von Stultz, Jeannie (2010). Adolescent brain development (Parts 1-3). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl-R5vtERj8

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