Ask any parent with children over 20 and they will tell you the hardest phase in child rearing was puberty — the ages between 10-16. It is a period when the hormones are changing and children are trying to become more independent of their parents, yet struggling with all the changes that are happening within their own bodies. With all these changes, how do children in puberty learn?
There are so many changes going on within the body the brain is having trouble keeping up. It is just prior to the start of puberty where the second phase of neural development begins, where the brain produces a large amount of neural connections. As in infants (the first stage) over time the number of neurons will lessen as the brain weeds out and “prunes” the neurons damaged or not being used (“use-it-or-lose it” is not just a saying). Note: The third stage of development where neurons are being made and then pruned is when we are older adults.
Recent research has found that the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain, considered the area for executive functions like setting priorities, controlling impulses, making decisions, forming plans and organizing, and dividing attention, is the last part of the brain to fully develop. That is why adolescents have trouble controlling their tempers, can sometimes become “irrational,” and have trouble making the right choices. The development of this area of the brain is extremely important for later functioning in the adult world.
Extraordinary changes occur during the second decade of life. The brain of an early adolescent – in comparison with that of a late adolescent – differs noticeably in anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. It is extremely important during this time that adolescents are given as much space as possible in order to solve their own problems — especially academically. The practice will strengthen the neural connections to the brain and allowing the brain to develop and mature for more complex thinking down the road.
Children of this age seem to have more energy. They are filled with curiosity and ideas, but still tend to be a bit disorganized and moody, and the slightest thing can set them off emotionally. At this time of their lives, social concerns are high priority. They are trying to establish their place in life. Friendships change, they distance themselves from parents and try for greater independence as they try to figure out things for themselves.
It is important to allow them to make decisions, with guidance, but don’t hover. Set limits and boundaries, which they will of course try to push. Remain strong, and communicate with them that your rules are and what to expect if they are not followed. Don’t become their friend, you are their parents, and believe it or not children want their parents to be there when they are in trouble, but not when they are trying to establish their position in society. Provide a place for them to come and be safe, and brings their friends, but don’t become part of the action. If you have laid the proper groundwork, through teaching, reading and allowing them to explore and make mistakes, and be responsible for those mistakes, they will build their life on that foundation and will come out on the other side of puberty in great shape!
From the desk of Ron White
Lieutenant Peter Puget, the grain of the brain and modern society’s failure to understand adolescence, by John Abbott: http://www.21learn.org/site/archive/lieutenant-peter-puget-the-grain-of-the-brain-and-modern-societys-failure-to-understand-adolescence/
Adolescents video: http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/understanding-the-brain-teenagers.html
Park Tudor Middle School— How Adolescents Learn: http://www.parktudor.org/academics/learning-project/Pages/how-adolescents-preteens-learn.aspx