Recognizing psychological distress

The teenage brain explained

Recognizing psychological distress

The teenage brain explained

AUTHOR: DOCTOR FRÉDÉRIC BENOIT, PSYCHIATRIST

Did you know that adolescence is a particularly prolific period for the human brain? Studies in brain growth in children now show that the teenage brain is able to assimilate new information almost effortlessly. And until the age of 25, the brain undergoes an intense period of activity, constantly creating new neurological connections.

Teen brain development: Taking the good with the bad

Whether it’s learning a new language, instrument or sport with relative ease, the teenage brain is able to absorb anything that stimulates it. For that reason, the teen years can also be a fragile time: teens are highly susceptible to anxiety and depression and particularly vulnerable to drugs and addiction, which may well follow them into adulthood. Drugs in particular have a remarkably powerful impact on the teenage brain, causing delays or complications in its development.

Why do teens have mood swings?

We now know that during adolescence, the distinct development of the brain and, on a smaller scale, the fluctuations of the hormones, can explain certain varying behaviours, such as acting impulsively or having trouble controlling one’s emotions. But with time and maturity, young people learn to take more informed decisions, to weigh the pros and cons before acting and to avoid unnecessary risk. And as they progressively improve their abilities, they are able to gain true control over their emotions and behaviours as adults 👨‍💼👩‍💼.

Is there a plus side to all these changes?

Even though such major changes have a direct effect on behaviour during adolescence, they nevertheless provide teens with the ability to make all kinds of discoveries, and to go beyond themselves in doing so. Thanks to their curiosity and desire for new experiences, young people are keen to explore new lifestyles, test their limits and gain increased independence. It’s a time in life when some will make new, stimulating friendships while others will defend causes to advance society or, quite simply, change the world.

A few tips to guide your teen through this transformative time

Respect their natural circadian rhythm as much as possible. Scientists recommend, for example, to let teens sleep in whenever they can.

Keep an open mind and allow them to express themselves freely, particularly when it comes to more delicate matters such as sexuality, friendships and relationships, bullying, alcohol and drugs. Even though it may be tempting to do so, try to refrain from giving excessive advice, or from scolding or punishing too freely: the higher and stricter the expectations and rules, the more your teen may tend to withdraw or challenge your authority.

Create more structure in your teen’s day (with regard to homework, meals, video games and sports) while allowing for some flexibility. This provides reassurance to your teen and helps them feel in control.

Suggest they take up sports or meditation.This will help them better manage their emotions, their relationships and their stress on a daily basis. Not sure where to begin where meditation is concerned? The following few exercises are a great start.

Keep an eye out for any unusual behaviour , which may be a sign of psychological distress or a mental health disorder. Learn more →

Don’t get caught off guard when a crisis situation arises: be well-informed and be present. If you feel overwhelmed by what’s happening, don’t hesitate to reach out; teljeunes.com and revivre.org, for example, are excellent resources where you can find solutions and avoid further distress—for both you and your teen.

Need to talk about what you are going through with your teenager?

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References

BEDWANI, Nagy Charles. L’adolescent suicidaire : Le reconnaître, le comprendre et l’aider, Éditions CHU Sainte-Justine. Montreal, 2015.


BEN AMOR, Leila, Leila, et al. Troubles mentaux chez les enfants et les adolescents : Prévenir, repérer tôt, intervenir, Éditions CHU Sainte-Justine. Montreal, 2017.


BOISVERT, Céline. Que savoir sur mon ado?, Éditions CHU Sainte-Justine. Montreal, 2008.


WAYLEN, A., et WOLKE D. “Sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll: the meaning and social consequences of pubertal timing,” European Journal of Endocrinology, 151, 3 (November 2004): U151-U159. Also available online: https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/151/Suppl_3/U151.xml