Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Brainstorm" The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

While the adolescent years may be challenging, the changes in the brain that help support the unique emergence of the adolescent mind can create qualities in us that help not only during our adolescent years, if used wisely, but also as we enter adulthood and live fully as an adult. How we navigate the adolescent years has a direct impact on how we’ll live the rest of our lives. Those creative qualities also can help our larger world, offering new insights and innovations that naturally emerge from the push back against the status quo and from the energy of the teen years.
For every new way of thinking and feeling and behaving with its positive potential, there is also a possible downside. Yet there is a way to learn how to make the most of the important positive qualities of the teenage mind during adolescence and to use those qualities well in the adult years that come later.
Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. There are changes in the fundamental circuits of the brain that make the adolescent period different from childhood. These changes affect how teens seek rewards in trying new things, connect with their peers in different ways, feel more intense emotions, and push back on the existing ways of doing things to create new ways of being in the world. Each of these changes is necessary to create the important shifts that happen in our thinking, feeling, interacting, and decision making during our adolescence. Yes, these positive changes have negative possibilities, too. Let’s see how each of these four features of the adolescent brain’s growth has both “upsides and downsides, and how they fill our lives with both benefits and risks.
  1. Novelty seeking emerges from an increased drive for rewards in the circuits of the adolescent brain that creates the inner motivation to try something new and feel life more fully, creating more engagement in life. Downside: Sensation seeking and risk taking that overemphasize the thrill and downplay the risk result in dangerous behaviors and injury. Impulsivity can turn an idea into an action without a pause to reflect on the consequences. Upside: Being open to change and living passionately emerge, as the exploration of novelty is honed into a fascination for life and a drive to design new ways of doing things and living with a sense of adventure.
  2. Social engagement enhances peer connectedness and creates new friendships. Downside: Teens isolated from adults and surrounded only by other teens have increased-risk behavior, and the total rejection of adults and adult knowledge and reasoning increases those risks. Upside: The drive for social connection leads to the creation of supportive relationships that are the research-proven best predictors of well-being, longevity, and happiness throughout the life span.
  3. Increased emotional intensity gives an enhanced vitality to life. Downside: Intense emotion may rule the day, leading to impulsivity, moodiness, and extreme, sometimes unhelpful, reactivity. Upside: Life lived with emotional intensity can be filled with energy and a sense of vital drive that give an exuberance and zest for being alive on the planet.
  4. Creative exploration with an expanded sense of consciousness. An adolescent’s new conceptual thinking and abstract reasoning allow questioning of the status quo, approaching problems with “out of the box” strategies, the creation of new ideas, and the emergence “of innovation. Downside: Searching for the meaning of life during the teen years can lead to a crisis of identity, vulnerability to peer pressure, and a lack of direction and purpose. Upside: If the mind can hold on to thinking and imagining and perceiving the world in new ways within consciousness, of creatively exploring the spectrum of experiences that are possible, the sense of being in a rut that can sometimes pervade adult life can be minimized and instead an experience of the “ordinary” being "extraordinary” can be cultivated. Not a bad strategy for living a full life!
Excerpt From: Daniel J. Siegel, MD. “Brainstorm.” Penguin Group, USA, 2013-12-26. iBooks.