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Extension cord: ‘What were you thinking?’ The remodelling of the brain

The human brain is amazingly complex and science is showing us just how interesting this three pound section of our body truly is.

Parents of teenagers can attest to this wonderment. How many times do they look dumbfoundly at their adolescent and wonder, “What were you thinking?”

A lot has been written and shared regarding the major ‘remodel’ of the brain that begins during the adolescent years and ends sometime in the mid 20’s.

While the brain is undergoing this remodel it is pruning unused connections and fine-tuning and strengthening used connections. This remodel begins at the back of the brain and works toward the front.

This means the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions, is first to mature.

Remember when your child was nine and ten? In general, they were pretty mellow. This was probably the time when the brain was working on the amygdala, therefore it was not fully functioning. Then the adolescent stage arrives and the brain begins to work on the frontal lobes which perform the executive functions and helps make sense of the flood of information constantly being gathered by the senses.

During this stage of the remodel, use of this section of the brain is restricted, forcing the amygdala to take over and resulting in a young person’s actions being controlled by emotions. Oh, boy!

Let’s liken the brain remodel to a house remodel: The kitchen is the heart of the home where family members tend to gather; discussions occur and decisions are made. Therefore it will serve as the frontal cortex of the home.

While the kitchen is being remodeled the tasks that normally take place there are now taking place in other rooms.

The bathroom becomes the dishwashing station simply because it has water and a sink. The bathroom sink is not designed to wash dishes and therefore does not function as well as the kitchen sink, but it gets the job done.

Interestingly, this may be the first time in the history of humans maturing from child to adult that puberty and the remodel of the frontal lobe occur at the same time.

The timing of puberty (biological changes in the body and hormonal changes in the brain) has been occurring at a younger and younger age over time. Now these changes align themselves with the maturation of the brain.

In other words, these three maturation systems are now occurring together and have created the perfect storm.

This makes the adolescences years even more exciting. Now the brain not only is dealing with the surge of hormones, but is still working through that remodel.

If we relate this to our home remodel it may look like this: You are diligently working on the kitchen remodel and have moved the normally occurring tasks to other areas of the house and here comes unexpected company — lots of them — to stay in your home.

Now you need to juggle working on the kitchen with the extra burden of having more dirty dishes to wash and people to feed. Life just got a little more interesting, but you are determined to complete the project.

It may take you longer than originally expected, in fact, way longer with the finishing touches not completed for years.

The same is true with the brain. In fact, scientists don’t think the frontal cortex and lobe (especially the pre-frontal cortex) is fully ‘cooked’ until the mid-twenties.

This new research indicating the mid-twenties (24 for females and 28 for males) for the remodel competition is leading to discussions in every realm of life.

As parents, though, this helps us understand our young adult children and may help us to better define and defend our role.

Child advocates remind parents to remain in the role of parent throughout the teen years. Despite the actions and words of a teenager, they need a parent just as much as a toddler does, and that parenting doesn’t end when the child turns 18.

Eighteen is not the magical age of maturity — the young adult needs guidance as well. Their brain is still not functioning to total capacity.

When we choose to become parents we sign on to a life-long job. The specific tasks of the job changes throughout our lifetime and it is our responsibility to fine tune the skills needed to accomplish the job at hand.

For more information contact Lynette Black, 4-H Youth Development Faculty, OSU Extension Service, Wasco County.


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