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Understanding the Teenage Brain – Teenage Mental Health Cannot be Ignored

In a recent survey by Young Minds it was discovered that 80% of the teens they connected with had suffered a decline in their mental health during lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic.
Factors such as sleep disturbance, loneliness, screen usage, boredom and confusion contributed to how they were feeling.

If you have teenagers, or children who are about to reach this time in their life, you will be aware that moving into the teenage years is a complex and challenging time both for the teens themselves and you, their families, even without the current situation we are experiencing.

Often, we blame teen moods, reactions and behaviour on ‘hormones’, but what if there was more to it than that?

Understanding the teenage brain is fundamental to taking a more relaxed, compassionate stance to some of the more complex and difficult behaviours.

Now, more than ever, we need to take some time to really explore these issues and how we can create an environment of understanding at times when behaviours and moods can seem extreme, when actually they are expressions of frustration.

The paradox is that just because a teenager looks much more like an adult, they must behave like one too, but neurologically teenagers do not have a brain ready for the adult world, and we need to support and guide them in any way we can… let me help you do this.

Exploring Sleep…

Put simply, teens do not sleep like us adults do.

Teens who go to bed later than you do and then refuse to get up in the morning are not slothful or lack discipline.

We already label teens as ‘lazy’, but what if it was more than that?

Sleep is vital to human health and is governed by a variety of brain signals and hormone changes which can be impacted on by the external environment.

Sleep is vital to a teens memory and learning as it is for managing stress and keeping situations in perspective.

Teens need more sleep to allow the brain to do what it needs to do…. Rest and rejuvenate, consolidate and process what has been learnt and experienced during the day…

The sleep hormone Melatonin works differently in teenagers to how it does in adults or younger children in the house.

Trying to enforce your sleep rhythm on your teenager will be detrimental to them.

Poor sleep impacts adversely on their mental health and well-being.

Exploring Moods…

One of the biggest challenges during the teenage years is their differing responses to situations which to us can sometimes seem irrational and ‘out of character’. It is this behaviour which is often labelled as ‘hormones’ and seen as a necessary part of teenage development.

However, research has shown that actually, as well as navigating new hormonal changes, rapid and complex brain development can also have a significant impact on the mood and responses of our teens.

The brains Pre-frontal cortex which provides perspective and rational thought is ‘under development’ during the teenage years, which means that unlike adults, teens are governed by the highs and lows of their emotional state without having the regulatory and rational functions helping them calm their minds.

Often what makes a teenagers life more difficult is that it is driven by emotion, not reason. Primitive brain emotions such as anger, grief, fear, hate and panic govern our teenagers brains, meaning it is much more difficult for them to handle the intensity of these emotions and ‘see the bigger picture’.

Adolescence is also a time of increased response to stress, which could partly explain why anxiety related issues increase during puberty. Teens simply do not have the same tolerance for stress that we see in adults resulting in an epidemic of symptoms including eating issues and self-harm.

The Tsunami of information our teens are flooded with, school expectations, home environment, negotiating friendships, finding their independence, not to mention social media and the internet are diverse aspects of a teens life which can overwhelm them easily at a time when they are more susceptible to this wealth of information.

Exploring hormones….

The teenager’s mood, behaviour changes and reactions have long been blamed on hormones. We know that hormonal changes have a vital role to play in the development of the teenage during the ‘in-between stage of childhood and adulthood, remembering that the teen brain is only 80% of the way towards maturity.

The 20% gap is crucial and explains mood swings, irritability, impulsiveness, explosiveness, inability to follow through and focus and the increase chance that they will engage in more risk-taking behaviour. Hormone imbalances as the body adjusts can also result in skin issues, hormones being just one contributory factor.


This is not all down to hormone changes. We need to appreciate that from a hormonal point of view, the teenage brain is seeing these hormones for the first time. The body and mind is still learning to modulate the new influx. It is not true that they have ‘higher’ hormone levels, their bodies just react differently as these changes occur.

Exploring Confidence and Identity…

This transient time, where teens are emerging from their families and building identity and relationships with friends and peers can have a long-lasting impact on our confidence and the way they see the world.

During this time, very often their peer group becomes more important as they start to develop their own interests, opinions and position themselves on topics which matter to them.
Teenage brain development creates the optimum time to learn new skills, it is when it is fluid and receptive to easily taking on new skills and gaining a wealth of knowledge and information, if it is of interest to them.

This is a time when identifying and celebrating their uniqueness is key, and focusing on individual, small achievements and abilities, not always related to school and grades which help them see themselves as a person in their own right, not just in response to how well they are doing at school.

The challenge for teens is that there is still very little in their lives which they can actually control, and there are still many expectations placed on them, most specifically school.

If teens are struggling, withdrawal from school work or even school refusal are common ways they can choose to express themselves.

Remembering that teens cannot see the bigger picture, and struggle with this.

They will react to what they see in the moment, and if they don’t see a point in a subject or it doesn’t fit with their emerging sense of identity, it can be more challenging for them to engage.

Believe it or not, it is not because they are being deliberately obstructive, it is more that they are trying to find their own place in the world as they emerge from the relative safety and security of family life.

The choices which they make may not be ones you would choose for them, and this can often be when it becomes more challenging as they will not just do what you ask them to.

Exploring Focus and Concentration…

The developing brain of a teenager can have an adverse impact on their ability to focus and concentrate.

The rapid and diverse brain development during adolescence means that the rational part of their brain is smaller and more ‘chaotic’ as their brains are forming connections starting with the emotional, primitive part of the brain which lends itself to be distracted, lose focus and wander.

There is so much going on in a teenage brain that a lot of energy and resources are wasted, they are easily distracted, and this can have an impact on the decision-making process.

We are quick to label these behaviours, but what if they are from a developing brain where the move from childhood to adolescent development is rapid and diverse, leading to teenagers needing to find their path, their ways of learning and developing independence in their thoughts and processing.

What can we do to help our teenagers?

Join me and other parents of pre-teens and teens in my online programme from the 12th – 16th July 2021 where we will put together a ‘tool-kit’ to support and guide our teenagers through these difficult years. You can access the short videos at any time, so you don’t need to be available at a set time each day.

We will:

  • Look at why sleep is so important; how, by understanding how the teenage brain works we can ensure they get the amount of sleep they need and how we can create an ideal sleep environment.
  • Identify techniques to support moods; ensuring they feel we are available to talk and provide reassurance when they need us, working on goal setting and managing time online and on social media, as well as the exploring the links between mood and sleep and nutrition.
  • Work to develop the ideal environment to enable focus and concentration, managing distractions and improving attention levels.
  • Discover ways to balance hormones enabling them to feel like they have more control over their bodies and minds.
  • Explore ways to support confidence and self acceptance, finding creative outlets to and ways to develop a growth mindset.

Find out more by watching the video below and click here to book your place.

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