The average household has had to deal with the terrible tantrums of the teenage ward it once thought to be an angel. All of a sudden, your little angel turns something quite unfathomable.
Instead of smirking his lips at his mum’s wholesome meals, he opts for fast foods; instead of following you through the house and chattering a dozen to a minute, you would be lucky if you get a grunt out of him. If you’re currently going through that phase in your household, be rest assured that your teenager’s behaviour is nobody’s fault – it’s all down to his brain!
Scientists used to think that our brains were fully developed by around the age of five. Now, Dr. Jay Giedd, an American neuroscientist who has been scanning the brains of teenage volunteers for the past 10 years, has discovered that their brains experience a growth spurt in adolescence.
This, he says, particularly affects the frontal lobes – the part of the brain thought to control impulse. When an adult decides it’s not a good idea to tell his boss he’s an idiot or to cut her ex-boyfriend’s clothes to shreds, that’s the frontal lobes doing their job.
According to Barbara Stranch, however, teenagers don’t have much self-restraint. The author of the book: Why Are They So Weird? Barbara says that’s the reason your teenage ward raids the drinks cabinet, experiments with drugs, screams ‘I hate you!’ at his mum, plasters his bedroom walls with pictures of naked women, and dares his mate to jump off windows at parties.
Teenage brains have also been found to have higher levels of dopamine than adult brains. Dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain, produces a feeling of well being – a natural high.
If your ward has got a high level of dopamine, he may feel that driving his dad’s car at 180 kmph down the freeway won’t hurt anyone.
And if he gets away with it, the action will lead to more dopamine being produced. At this point, you’ve just got to hope he’ll be arrested by the police!
“Risk-taking”, says Barbara, “is a part of growing up.
It’s all about defining boundaries. As we get older, we become more fearful. Adolescence is an adventure.
Of course, anyone who’s had to physically drag her teenage out of bed could be forgiven for thinking that teenagers, far from being adventurous, are just naturally idle.
“Brain chemicals could also explain why your teenager is such a lazy-bones. Melatonin – a sleep-regulating chemical – flows into a teenage brain far later in the day than when they’re younger.
A teenager’s melatonin only starts making him drowsy at around 10 pm – 3 am, which is why it’s so hard to get him to go to bed. Teenagers also need more sleep than adults.
They’d happily sleep for 10 hours at a time. No wonder they’re so grouchy when you wake them up for school in the morning.
And if you’re wondering about your teenage son’s sudden interest in the scantily dressed women on his bedroom walls, they too, assured scientists, are the results of hormones and brain chemistry.
Testosterone causes the first surge of attraction and dopamine keeps it flowing. Sounds great, but the teenage years can be difficult for all sorts of reasons.
Just a few years ago, your teenager’s biggest worry was whether he’d get a Nintendo for Christmas. Suddenly, he’s being told that the choices he makes now will affect the rest of his life.
He’d dealt with lots of the new pressures – bigger schools, harder exams, and more complex relationships.
Every day, he’s being bombarded with advice, adverts, and criticism. “Coping in the world today is hard for everyone, especially for young people,” says Barbara.
“Many find their own ways. They tend to be very supportive of each other. I think we need to look at why teenagers go out of control -not just condemn them as yobs.
“In other words, you shouldn’t be so hard on your teenage wards. After all, they aren’t responsible for the massive changes they’re going through.
So, the next time your cherub yells abuse, steals from you or dyes his hair a shocking colour, close your eyes, take a deep breath and say to yourself: “It’s just his frontal lobe”