The Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation, Hong Kong
Adolescence is the period of rapid growth and development in the life cycle. Although human brain growth maximizes during early childhood, brain remodeling happens intensively during adolescence and varies according to individual’s age, experience and hormonal changes in puberty. The brain becomes more efficient based on the “use it” or “lose it” principle, whereby the unused connections in the thinking and processing part of the grey matter will prune away while the more used connections are strengthened. The pruning process begins at the back of the brain while the prefrontal cortex is remodeled last.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, planning, problem-solving and impulse control and will continue to develop in early adulthood. Adolescents may rely on amygdala to make decisions and solve problems before the prefrontal cortex matures. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive response which shape the behavior of adolescents. The adolescent brain is prone to seek out new experiences, risks and sensations which are part of the refinement of brain connections. It is important to guide and support teens in choosing healthy risks such as sports and travelling rather than experiencing risky activities like alcohol or substance abuse that would lead to detrimental health consequences.
Adolescence is also a stage that is vulnerable to toxic stress which can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and overall health across the lifespan. On the other hand, mental health disorders such as depression or psychosis are more prevalent in adolescents. Supportive and nurturing environment from family, peers, school and community would lay the fertile ground for the young brain to develop. It is crucial to encourage young people to engage in positive behavior, to build up positive thinking strategies and to ensure adequate sleep during this critical period of brain development and remodeling.
Disclaimer: The Views and opinions expressed in the articles are of the authors and not of the journal.
Mid City Hospital, 3-A Shadman II
Jail Road, Lahore ,Pakistan