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Counselling Chronicle (9)

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Counselling Chronicle (9)

Issue Nine…

The Adolescent Brain – Closed for Construction

Childhood is the period in which human beings undergo the most rapid change. While adolescents undergo many changes, perhaps one of the most significant (and, at times, infuriating) is their development of more complex, rational thought.

The human brain is the most complex system known to man and researchers have only just scratched the surface in understanding its functioning and capabilities. For simplicity’s sake, it is helpful to broadly separate the brain into two parts:

1) the lower “emotion” brain – this comprises of the systems needed to maintain life (breathing, heartrate, consciousness) and the emotional part of our brain (emotions, fight/flight system, fear, some types of memory).

2) the more complex “smart” brain – this comprises of our frontal lobe, where reason, logic, impulse control, planning, organisation, empathy and all the more complex thought processes occur.

Adolescence is the period of time in which the “smart” brain is going through significant structural change and development. In essence, we can consider this part of the brain “closed for construction”. This effectively means that while adolescents often speak and sound as if they have developed many of the characteristics of adulthood, their brains are tuned in to their emotions and are tuned out to planning, reason and impulse control.

They essentially have a Ferrari inside their head – powerful, fast and full of potential, but with an infant in the driver’s seat.

To add to the complications of a “smart” brain undergoing construction, the hormonal changes adolescents are undergoing occur more significantly in areas of the brain dealing with emotions, compared to the areas of the brain associated with planning and impulse control. This means that adolescents learn most when their emotions are involved – there needs to be an emotional connection!

Further, this means that when adolescents become emotional there is virtually no point is using logic, reason and words to try to calm them or rationalise with them.

So what do you do? Adolescents need to be emotionally calm and supported to learn.

If your child is emotional:

1) Regulate – let them calm down,
2) Relate – connect with them, show them that your relationship with them is important, and then
3) Reason – use words and logic to teach and reflect on learning experiences.

Felicity Webster
Chevalier College Counsellor


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