If you like to read, here’s a good article from the Stanford Children’s Health website about the developing teenage brain. It attempts to explain how teens eventually grow out of thinking emotionally to thinking logically. As the article says, not all teens develop their prefrontal cortex at the same rate.
A good article, but not a great article, because it mistakenly implies that teenagers will, by the time they’re in their mid-twenties, grow out of their emotional ways of thinking. This isn’t true of all teenagers. Many become adults who continue to favor emotional ways of thinking. I’ll explain why.
At the onset of adolescence, growth hormones flood a young person’s body and brain to stimulate the growth needed as an adult. In the prefrontal cortex (PFC) part of the brain, the area responsible for critical thinking, brain cells sprout countless connector fibers to prepare for connecting the brain cells into circuits. The circuits don’t automatically start connecting just because a kid is becoming an adult. A child has to use critical thinking skills to stimulate the cells to connect. Critical thinking skills are like any skills. They have to use the skills to create the circuits involved in the skill.
Two important facts:
- If a child doesn’t exercise critical thinking skills as an adolescent, the skills won’t establish. The more skills they use, the more robust their critical thinking ability will become. If they do the work, they’ll be establishing an intellectual foundation for future accomplishment.
- If a child doesn’t exercise critical thinking skills as an adolescent, not only will the skills fail to establish, but the unused connector fibers will gradually be absorbed into the body to clear the way for more efficient mental processing. In short, the window of opportunity for establishing these basic thinking skills will be closed. It is literally “use it or lose it.” This is why when you look around you, some adults are executives, lawyers, doctors, professors, etc., while others spend their days riding lawn mowers and trash pickup trucks. It always pains me to point this out, but it’s the truth.
What can a parent do? The Stanford article offers a few tips. But only a few. Parents can do much, much more to encourage kids to exercise critical thinking throughout adolescence. And contrary to the typical pop articles about the teen brain, you don’t have to wait until a kid is a grown adult to see results. Some lucky kids begin pursuing interests that involve critical thinking around age 10 or 11. They become teenagers who mostly think logically, not emotionally. You may have met some of these bright kids.
I know you want the best for your child, so what more can you do? For parents who want the whole truth about their teen’s developing brain, I address the answers in my book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.
Also, I’ve featured this topic in other posts: