Adolescent Brain Development

Jennifer Craugh

I chose the topic of adolescent brain development for two main reasons. First, because I plan to teach adolescents between the upper elementary and middle school grades and I will definitely need to understand their developmental stages, and second because I have an 11-year-old son whom I hope to guide smoothly through adolescence and into a fulfilling and productive adulthood. I remember my own adolescence as a time of excitement and possibility tempered by my continued dependence on my parents. Then as now, adults often speak derogatorily of adolescents. This has always bothered me, and I still don't understand the justification behind maligning an entire group of people, especially children. I also remember being irritated with the, "It's the hormones" theory to explain the changes between childhood and adolescence. I found it silly then; adults have all of those hormones too, and I'm gratified now to read the research showing that it's actually a combination of, yes hormones, but also the state of brain development during this life stage.external image adolescent%2Bbrain.jpg
Two cartoons of the areas of the brain and adolescent functioning . A funny cartoon of the adolescent brain.

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The top five things I learned about adolescent brain development are:

1. Contrary to prior belief, the adolescent brain is not fully developed. The brain develops from the back forward and from the inside out, so that the"CEO" of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, is not yet fully developed during adolescence.

2. Previous brain theories claimed that the mass majority of growth and change in the brain takes place in the first three years of life. New diagnostic imaging technology shows that just prior to puberty the brain enters another period of great growth and change. This period represents a time of great opportunity for hard-wiring positive lifelong habits, or conversely, for hard-wiring negative or detrimental lifelong habits.

3. The pre-frontal cortex controls advanced brain function including insight, judgement, impulse control, planning, strategizing, cognitive flexibility, and problem solving. Adolescents, however, don't have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex. The majority of adolescent brain functioning takes place in the ventral striatum, where decisions are made based on rewards and emotions without the back-up cognitive strength of the pre-frontal cortex.

4. Adolescence is also a time of great vulnerability. Substance abuse and addiction use many of the same systems as normal learning. The adolescent brain, similar to the young child's brain, is highly susceptible to intensive learning. If the adolescent is abusing drugs or alcohol, the behavior is learned more deeply than in the adult brain, thereby creating a situation for stronger and longer addiction problems.

5. This new research and understanding of adolescent brain development has numerous implications for adolescent education practices, social issues including juvenile justice, adolescent medical therapies and treatments, and other areas affecting adolescent life.


1. This links to a document regarding adolescent brain development as a paradoxical period of great vulnerability and great opportunity.

This is not my favorite resource since it is just a regular document, but it does contain important information regarding new findings in adolescent brain development and the implications to society. This is a good introduction to the topic, so I give this resource a 3/5.

2. Adolescent Brain Development
This is a You-Tube video about new research and research technologies in adolescent brain development. It interviews a leading researcher in the field and provides intriguing and interesting ideas, but I find the overall presentation a bit too dramatic and the end seems to wander randomly. I give this resource a 3/5.

3. This links to an article and corresponding video by FrontLine producer Sarah Spinks.
This article is interesting and fun to read. Much of the information is recaptured from other primary sources, but this article also presents warnings regarding interpretations of this new information and possible negative repercussions of such interpretations. I give this resource a 3/5.

4. These next three videos are a sequenced presentation on new understandings regarding the incomplete development of the adolescent brain and possible subsequent social, educational, behavioral, emotional, and motivational implications. These are my favorite resources. I really enjoy the presentation of the speaker and her familiar and friendly manner of communication. I give these videos a GOLD 5/5!

5. These are two of a three part series of videos about the new findings and implications of adolescent brain development. I found these two informative, especially the first. The third video is available on You Tube if you follow these links, but I found that it veered off of the main topic and into too many social-service type specificities. the narrator in these is informative and congenial, so I give these a 4/5.

6. Links to document regarding implications of adolescent brain development on juvenile justice decisions.
This is an interesting document regarding some of the implications and realities of these new findings on the juvenile justice system. This is enlightening. I give this source a 3.5/5.

7. This is a short video from the UC Berkeley, School of Psychology and Neuroscience. I like the images of the adolescent brain in this video and the study showing the hasty decision making in adolescents. I give this resource a 4/5.

8. This is a chart showing the heavy growth period during adolescence.

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