The Adolescent Brain

The Adolescent Brain - OHSU Brain Awareness

Adolescence is a time filled with changes, both physical and emotional. The adolescent brain is no exception.

It is now commonly believed that the brain of an adolescent is much more dynamic than previously thought. The changing physical features that are obvious on the outside of an adolescent are also taking place inside their brain. At various times during childhood and into adolescence, new synapses are made and then pared down, producing more mature brain structures.

All of this pruning can have both positive and negative effects. Sometimes psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD and Tourette syndrome, may be suppressed as a child becomes a teenager. However, some neuroscientists believe that this pruning of connections, which is supposed to result in a more finely tuned brain, could unmask a defect that causes schizophrenia (source: Waldorf Library).

Tips to improve adolescent brain function

  • Protect the brain from traumatic injury. Wear a helmet when bicycling, skateboarding, skiing, or participating in contact sports.
  • Sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial for proper brain function. Adolescents need lots of sleep; at least 8 hours each night.
  • Eat a healthy diet. The brain needs food and the higher quality the better. A good diet is critical for developing a healthy nervous system. Research consistently demonstrates that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will benefit the brain AND the body.
  • Drink plenty of water. The brain works best when properly hydrated.
  • Physical exercise not only keeps your body in shape; it also keeps your mind sharp. New studies indicate that exercise stimulates new cell growth in the brain increasing mental abilities 20% to 30%.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. The adolescent brain is much more susceptible to the negative effects of drug and alcohol use. The effects could have life-long consequences.