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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Whiteside

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Teen Brain: What Sets Adolescents Apart from Adults?

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

The human brain is one of the most complex and fascinating organs in the body, and it undergoes significant changes throughout development. The teenage brain, in particular, is unique in its structure and function compared to the adult brain. It is important to understand the differences between the teen brain and the adult brain, and how these differences affect behavior, decision-making, and emotional regulation.



One of the most significant differences between the teen brain and the adult brain is the degree of development in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, impulse control, and planning. In the teenage brain, the prefrontal cortex is still developing and is not fully mature until the mid-20s. This means that teenagers may struggle with decision-making and impulse control, leading to risk-taking behaviors and poor judgment.


Another difference between the teen brain and the adult brain is the degree of myelination in the brain. Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers and helps to increase the speed of signal transmission in the brain. In the teenage brain, myelination is not yet complete, which can lead to slower processing speeds and difficulty with complex tasks.


The teenage brain is also more sensitive to rewards and social cues than the adult brain. The limbic system, which is responsible for emotional regulation and reward processing, is more active in the teenage brain. This means that teenagers may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use or unprotected sex, as they are more susceptible to the positive rewards associated with these behaviors.



In addition to these structural differences, the teenage brain is also more susceptible to environmental factors such as stress and trauma. The teenage brain is still developing neural pathways that are crucial for emotional regulation, and exposure to chronic stress or trauma can disrupt these pathways and lead to long-term emotional difficulties.


Overall, the differences between the teen brain and the adult brain have significant implications for behavior, decision-making, and emotional regulation. Understanding these differences can help parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals better support teenagers during this critical period of development. By providing a supportive and nurturing environment, we can help teenagers navigate the challenges of adolescence and emerge as healthy and resilient adults.


Stephanie Whiteside, LCSW

Owner/Therapist

Serenity Counseling, Coaching, Consulting LLC

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