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healthykids The Wild and Wooly


TEEN BRAIN


What Kids Need from Us to Grow Wise


by April Thompson P


eer pressure and body conscious- ness are universal challenges facing teens and their parents. Experts


find that by modeling healthy habits and maintaining open lines of commu- nication, adults can help foster healthy independent thinking and responses to inevitable situations.


Respect Developing Capacities


Some teen struggles are literally all in their heads, according to Dr. Frances Jensen, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, in Philadelphia. “The brain


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is the last organ to mature, and isn’t fully complete until young people reach their late 20s. This allows the brain to adapt to its environment, which can be both good and bad,” says Jensen, author of The Teenage Brain: A Neu- roscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. Compounding the challenge, the frontal lobes, responsible for higher func- tions like insight, judgment, impulse con- trol and empathy, fully mature last; it’s no coincidence that teens struggle in these areas, according to Jensen. The plasticity of the teenage brain is optimal for learn- ing and adaption, but without the frontal lobe feedback, it’s a challenge for them to moderate the heightened emotions, novelty seeking and sexual impulses adolescents are also experiencing. “We expect teenagers to act ratio-


nally, but there are many reasons why their brains aren’t taking them there,” says Jensen. “Acknowledging this can lower frustration levels for everyone.”


Create a Safe Haven Teens learn more from experience than lectures, so parents should facilitate positive experiences and influences at home, advises Carla Atherton, director of The Healthy Family Formula, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, which fosters family well-being by holistically addressing root causes of poor health. Such activities can include regularly preparing meals together and


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