At puberty, a child’s brain is primed to develop the kind of critical thinking that will make them successful as adults.
This fact of adolescence is massively important but all too easy to forget.
At puberty, the brain cells in their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain right behind the forehead that handles critical thinking, are stimulated by hormones to sprout thousands of new connector fibers (dendrites). This “blossoming” sets up the possibility for the dendrites to interconnect the brain cells into circuits that enable various kinds of thinking skills.
But there are two extremely important limitations:
- The child has to exercise the skill, or the dendrites won’t be stimulated to connect. The child has to do the work, get the reps, as in developing any skill.
- The child doesn’t have their whole life to accomplish this. Towards the end of adolescence, the unused connector fibers are gradually reabsorbed into the body. This “pruning” clears the way for the connections that remain to fire much more efficiently.
Literally, the teen must use it or lose it. The established connections that remain become the foundation for that child’s ability to think and learn as an adult.
Some kids will grow up with an impressive array of thinking skill circuits.
Other kids won’t do the work and many more dendrites will go unused and will be pruned away, leaving a much smaller foundation.
It’s just a fact of life, a little-known but quite real aspect of growing up. You can see the differences in the adults you encounter every day. This aspect of brain development represents a huge window of opportunity for an adolescent child. They can prepare themselves for challenging careers and an enhanced ability to solve life’s problems.
There are ways you, the parent, can encourage your child to do the work. One strategy is to make them aware of what’s happening, which could inspire them to get involved in activities that have an impact. More about this…
I explain all this in my how-to book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain. It’s written in plain English, not academic or scientific language. I recommend that you check it out.