Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teens: Protect That Great Brain of Yours!

By: Kathryn Miller

Early each summer, after students have made their final college decisions, I meet with each of my students and their parents to discuss transitioning to college.  This is an opportunity to cover any topic that may be on their minds, as well as some that may have been simmering under the surface. Parents are concerned that they have done everything right to prevent their students from "going off the rails" once they get to college and students are feeling mixed emotions about the prospect of their newfound independence.

With these meetings in mind, today I listened intently to a NPR FreshAir podcast entitled, "Why Teens Are Impulsive, Addiction-Prone And Should Protect Their Brains."  Over the years I have read many articles and books about adolescent brains, focusing on the later development of the prefrontal cortex that not only helps with regulating impulsive behaviors, but it is the key receptor for thought and analysis.  Although many teens look like fully-formed adults, their brains may not catch up until their are in their mid-twenties or even later.

What was a new revelation from this podcast is that the elasticity of the adolescent brain that makes it so wonderful for taking in new information and creating memory, is the same trait that can make adolescents more susceptible to addictive behaviors, as these, too, are a form of learning, albeit a negative one.  Every teen has heard the warnings about the impact of today's more potent marijuana, as well as the evils of binge-drinking, but it probably would never occur to them that the long-range effects could possibly be permanent.  

Just as you wouldn't think of skiing or riding a bike without a helmet (You wouldn't, would you?!), it is time to look at protecting that amazing brain of yours from other outside forces that could keep you from being the successful college student and adult that you have worked so hard to become. Face it - you know you are impulsive, but embrace your impulsivity to sign up for a class in a challenging subject or join a new club, rather than engaging in potentially destructive behaviors.  No preaching here.  I'm just asking you to selfishly protect that amazing brain of yours for all the wonderful plans you have for your future to leave your unique mark on the world. 

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