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Inside the tweener's brain

What insights can neuroscience offer parents about the mind of a middle schooler?

By Hank Pellissier

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The middle schooler's brain

"When I’m a grown-up, I want to be totally awesome."

The tweens and early teens of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade are often hormone-addled, pimpled, unpredictable narcissists, rudely defiant one second and emotionally clingy the next. They've probably calculated that you're not as completely cool as Lady Gaga, Peyton Manning, or even their faddishly-dressed BFF – and they let you know it. You may wonder if your precious child's body is inhabited by aliens. Honestly, close guess — those invading “aliens” are hormones.

When kids reach puberty, their brains produce gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). When GnRH courses into the tiny pituitary gland, two additional hormones — luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) — escape and basically run wild. In boys, these hormones swim south, telling the testes to start manufacturing testosterone and sperm. In girls, LH and FSH manipulate the ovaries, soliciting production of estrogen. Either way, all hell breaks loose.

During this traumatic time, we need to provide often-unwanted (but typically much-needed) love, advice, and support — which is why it's helpful to know what's occurring, anatomically, in their evolving noggins. Here's how you can better understand — and navigate — the cranial crises of your adolescent child.

Photo credit: Five eyes

Hank Pellissier is a freelance writer whose fiction and essays have been been widely published and anthologized. A former columnist for Salon and SF Gate, he is a regular contributor to h+ Magazine.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/9/2012:
"Great insight! Laid out and clear. I am a single father with a 12 year old son, and I hate not being aware of all he is going through because it makes me a nagger. Now I am better equipped to guide him through it. It may not be any easier, but at least there is a path now that I can lead him on to make him a mature young adult. "
01/11/2012:
"I wish I would have seen this article soone. My 6th grader had a panic attack and realized she had suicidal thoughts. She had been bulied at school and was reacting to it. She is going to counceling now. Parent and pre teens should know all these changes are happening so that we as parents should know how to deal with it, and the kids so they can understand what is going on. Maybe there should be classes at schools to educate us. Thanks for the article. "
08/2/2011:
"Try being in a grade school that has sixth grade in it. You still get treated like a BABY! It's horrible! "
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