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The Teenaged Brain

chandrika221 / flickr

The drama of mood swings, impulsiveness and bizarre behaviors during adolescence
can take a toll on both teens and their parents. Neuropsychiatrist and bestselling author Dr. Daniel Siegel says that there is a lot of misinformation about this developmental period.

“There are common myths that we all hear about…that are actually not only wrong, they’re misleading and in some ways they’re disempowering.  So by learning the truths you can actually understand things as they actually are and then do something about them.”

Dr. Siegel's latest book "Brainstorm"explains how brain development during adolescence affects both behavior and relationships. For example, when informed they can't attend a social event, teens might become irate or morose and this reaction has a scientific explanation. 

"The brain knows from evolution that you need to be a member of a group when you leave the home or you're in grave danger of dying, of being killed.  So membership has a feeling of life and death. This isn't what an adolescent is making up. It's just the nature of our history."

Dr. Siegel says that while this fact shouldn't change a parent's mind, knowledge of brain development for both the teens and parents may aid during highly emotional moments.  Dr. Siegel suggests that teens learn to "surf" their emotions with the knowledge that certain feelings of desperation do not reflect reality and are fleeting.

Another surprising aspect of adolescent brain development is that the stage starts at age around 12 and goes to about age 24.  "The idea that when 19 turns to 20, you go from being an adolescent to being an adult...that's just wrong."

Dr. Siegal says starting around puberty the brain begins to prune away unneeded neuroconnections so that the adult brain can integrate and specialize.  "You're becoming more efficient, more coordinated, more balanced...It's a use it or lose it principle."

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk