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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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Judgment or lack thereof

From middle school to maturity, the brain’s primary growth area is the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes, a region that's referred to as the "CEO" or "central decision-maker" of the brain. The cognitive control center, it’s responsible for functions like mediating conflicting emotions, making ethical decisions, inhibiting emotional and sexual urges, general intelligence and predicting future events. If you’ve noticed your 11-year-old son can be frightfully disorganized, or that your tween daughter now seeks a private area, like in a locked box or drawer, for secret items or a journal, you can trace these behaviors back to the brain of their brains, so to speak.

And right now it’s changing tremendously in a "rewiring" process that fortifies certain neural highways while virtually abandoning the majority of others. The transitional activity of this rewiring phase is disorienting for your young teen, and often exhibits itself in recklessness, poor decision-making, and emotional outbursts.

Photo credit: myacademy

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 readers

"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. "
"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. "
"Try being in a grade school that has sixth grade in it. You still get treated like a BABY! It's horrible! "