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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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Pleasure seekers

A research article published in Cerebral Cortex (January 2010) suggests that adolescents indulge in risk-taking behavior because the anterior insula is more highly-activated in young teens than in adults, and the ventral striatum peaks in middle adolescence. These regions are hypersensitive to reward. Underdevelopment of frontal lobes also makes youngsters behave more emotionally, because they're still making decisions with their wild, fight-or-flight, reptilian-brain amygdala, instead of with their reasonable, civilized (and still growing) prefrontal cortex. Warn your impulsive daredevil about the dangers of drugs, smoking, alcohol, unsafe sex, and out-of-control skateboarding without a helmet, emphasizing the catastrophic harm that can befall their most prized possession: the mind.

Photo credit: Passive Income

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! "