Dan Siegal, M.D., provides thoughtful, easy-to-understand explanations of adolescent brain development. He is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He is also the executive director of the Mindsight Institute, which focuses on the development of mindsight, which teaches insight, empathy, and integration in individuals, families and communities.
The human brain does not fully develop until the mid-20s. Scientists now know the brain is getting reorganized in a big way during the teenage years.
For teens, not only is the brain still very much in development, but different regions of the brain are changing at different rates, with life-changing consequences.
Why the Teen Brain has an Evolutionary Advantage
All the seemingly crazy behaviors of teenagers, they aren’t just there to annoy parents – they might serve a real evolutionary purpose. Not only are the brains of teenagers still developing, but different regions of the brain are changing at different rates, with important consequences . . . and risks.
Teen Brain Facts
A pruning and strengthening process is happening in brains between the ages of 13 to 25. During this time, the brain cells and neural connections that get used the least are pruned away and those used the most become stronger.
The parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation.
The part of the brain which controls reasoning and impulses, the prefrontal cortex, is among the last parts of the brain to develop. The prefrontal cortex is what allows us to think about the future, understand consequences and generally make better decisions.
More and more research is showing experimentation with drugs like marijuana and alcohol can have lasting harmful effects. Brain scans for instance, have linked underage alcohol abuse with decreased memory functioning.
The developing brain is at high risk of addiction. Drugs, like marijuana, can overload the brain with dopamine and cause the reward system to get out of whack and send too many “feel-good” signals. In response, the brain tries to right the balance by letting through fewer of the “feel-good” signals the brain makes naturally. This causes a teen to feel “in a funk” when not using drugs – and going back for more only makes things worse.
“Teen users are at significantly higher risk of developing an addictive disorder compared to adults, and the earlier they begin using, the higher their risk. Nine out of 10 people who meet the clinical criteria for substance use disorders involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began using these drugs before they turned 18. People who begin using any addictive substance before age 15 are six and a half times as likely to develop a substance use disorder as those who delay use until age 21 or older (28.1 percent vs. 4.3 percent).”
Thank you for teaching youth about human brain development. Knowing about their brains may help your students make healthy decisions for years to come!
Oregon City Together provides several fun tools to assist you. All are at no charge to Oregon City schools, Oregon City teachers and Oregon City community partners.
Large blow-up brain to attract students’ attention
When blown up, the brain is about 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It weighs about 45 pounds. It comes in a travel case that fits in most vehicles. The brain is pretty easy to blow-up…it requires an electrical outlet and about 10 minutes to do so. Please email Pam Wilson at email@example.com if you are interested in scheduling.
Provide the date(s) you want the brain and the length of time you will be using it. If you just know the approximate time period that is fine. An OCT volunteer will deliver it to you. We may be able to pick it up as well but you are responsible for returning it to Eastham Community School by the designated deadline. Scheduling is first-come, first-served.
This educational project is funded with a Clackamas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Grant.
Stress-relief blue brains for student incentives/giveaways
These are fun incentives for students learning about brain development. OCT provides them for Oregon City students in grades 4 to 12. Please contact Pam Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know how many you need and by when you want them. They will be delivered to you.
Already printed and available free to Oregon City teachers and Oregon City community partners. Request from Pam Wilson at email@example.com. Please state the date you need them and how many you need. They will be delivered to you.
Assemblies, presentations and discussions. Oregon City Together sponsored a presentation by Dr. Crystal Collier to Oregon City parents and educators during May 2021. Here is that presentation. She is the author of The Neuro WhereAbouts Guide. This guide is an excellent resource for parents but also great for teachers. The health teachers at both Tumwata and Gardiner Middle Schools have copies of this book. OCT has copies to borrow — contact Pam Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Oregon City Library also has copies in English and Spanish.
Talk to Pam if you would like Dr. Collier to speak to Oregon City educators, students and/or parents, and are interested in OCT underwriting the event. Dr. Collier is visiting Oregon City during April 2022 (in-person or zoom) and we would like to “piggyback” as many opportunities as possible.