Vulnerable Years: Why Teenagers Behave The Way They Do

Teenagers are usually seen as lacking circumspection and failing to do diligently everything their parents say and to resist the temptation to plunge into the world of unreasonable pleasures their peers lure them to. Such behavior is conventionally attributed to the hormonal storms teens face, but it’s actually the way their brain is developing, a neuroscientist says.

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They stay in bed till afternoon and refuse to revise – how is that even possible to stay at home when all the others are hanging out outside, waiting for another party to kick off? Parents sigh, and teens pretend not to notice it. The good old story of puberty.

According to S.-J. Blakemore, a professor at University College London specializing in cognitive neuroscience, there is more to it than meets the eye. The proverbial self-centeredness and relentlessness of teenagers is not determined solely by the hormones that bounce around during the transition from a child to an adult.

The brains behind

Teenagehood is a period when the brain is still developing, and this stage is crucial for further behavior as an adult. Significant neurological changes occur in the brain, as evidenced by numerous studies involving brain scans and other means of evaluating teens’ behavior from the scientific point of view, such as psychological experiments.

There are many TV shows, jokes and series mocking teenagers, and making fun of the way they behave is common. This is not fair, says Blakemore, as it is a natural stage of their development that they have to live through–there will be a lot to regret, but as of this moment, they cannot help but set their preferences in a way that is rarely tolerated by parents.

Prof. S.-J. Blakemore

The self-absorption evident in most teens is due to their own self being shaped during this stage. The brain strives to declare independence of adults, and this establishment of personality is carried out through doing everything their own way. They find it extremely difficult to resist the temptation to do what their friends, not parents expect them to do – simply because the wish to become independent outweighs the comfort of home.

I know, but I won’t

It is common knowledge that teens love to stay up late and hate getting up early. This trait is usually attributed to laziness, but even this shift in circadian rhythms is explained by the changes that take place in their body, says Blakemore. It might be a good idea to adjust schedules according to the young’s biological clocks, and research suggests that such an approach can benefit academic performance.

The same is true of not focusing on studying and sneaking out to party instead. During this period, it is peer approval that becomes of utmost importance, and this is why doing risky things is common among the young. It’s not that they don’t understand something is dangerous – it’s just that they fail to resist the temptation to showcase their courage/beauty/coolness/whatever, even if it is likely to bring them troubles.

One of the psychological experiments to which Blakemore refers is a computer game in which a participant played an online game with two other players – they were told the counterparts were real, but there was actually AI on the other side of the screen. When the two AI players preferred to exclude the real player from the game, teens were much more anxious than the adults who also were enrolled in the study. Thus, social exclusion is something that is barely tolerable by teenagers. Another experiment showed that teens are more likely to take risks when accompanied by peers – there is usually no such effect in adults.

Parenting a teenager is definitely not easy, and one has to be patient and wise to sail through the period. Supporting and understanding your child is key. While the changes taking place in the brain take their toll on behavior, it is up to both the teen themselves and the parent to try to handle all the problems that may arise, and it is proper upbringing that matters as much as the neurological changes. Enjoying life to the full, when ingrained in teens’ mind as a form of consumerism, breeds propensity for self-centeredness, so parents can actually do quite a lot to raise a responsible, good person – teens are not mere mechanisms, after all.

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