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Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

Five to Thrive Teenagers

Your Teenager's Brain

Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood. This stage of life is marked by increased learning abilities, the importance of social groups and friends, and the want and need for more independence. The changes in an adolescent brain and the associated increase in risk-taking activities can be difficult for some adults to understand.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have shown that our brains change rapidly during our teenage years and continue to develop until our mid-twenties. Every teenager has different life experiences, and there are lots of factors that influence how someone feels and behaves.

All the emotional support that you give your teenager will help them to make strong connections in the neocortex (the ‘upstairs brain’). These connections help them to learn about:

  • Managing their emotions & behaviour (self-regulation)
  • Dealing with challenges (resilience)
  • The way others see things (empathy)
Unicef adolescent brain diagram

Understanding some typical teenager behaviours

'I feel so tired'

There are many reasons why a teenager feels tired. From lack of sleep, too much screen time, worrying about friends, exams or they may be being bullied. A teenager’s brain prunes (cuts back) which means reshaping brain connections to allow for more growth. The brain cuts back any unnecessary connections or unused connections. This happens most at night time and is one of the reasons your teenager needs more sleep.

'I don’t know which subjects to take'

Your Teenager is expected to make lots of decisions about their life, studies and future careers. These can be difficult choices to make when your child’s brain is ‘pruning’. Research also shows the decision-making part of the brain is far from being fully developed. Did you know the part of the brain most affected by pruning is the pre-frontal cortex? This area of the brain is responsible for decision making, planning and reflecting on any consequences of actions taken.

young teenagers smiling

You may wish that you had as much energy as your little one! A good way to let off steam is by being outdoors and having some active time every day. You won’t notice the noise or the mess when you are outside. Connecting with nature has many benefits for overall health and well-being for everyone. It’s easier for your child to relax when they have had the chance to burn off some energy.

When you encourage children to do things independently in their daily routines, such as helping to prepare food, dressing themselves, and blowing their nose, you are helping them to develop feelings of being capable. When children feel good inside, it helps them to manage their behaviour.

Play also provides rich opportunities for talking. Encouraging speech & language skills, independence, curiosity and a love of learning will all help your pre-schooler to be ready for school.

It might feel a bit early to be thinking about school at the moment, but we would encourage you to join our School Readiness Workshop if your child is 3+.

teenager in classroom

Have you ever heard of the phrase 'connection before correction'? You can do this when your teenager is distressed by seeing things from their point of view. First, tell them calmly that you can see that they are frustrated/angry/sad and you know how difficult that is; this helps you to connect. Explain clearly why they can’t have or do something and finally support them with problem-solving so that they may handle things differently next time. This will help your teenager to think for themselves and to be able to cope.

When your teenager understands how their brain and body works and what it is telling them, it becomes easier for them to cope with feelings & emotions.

Top tips for supporting your child:

  • Respond with compassion & connection
  • Engage in a way that supports problem-solving
  • Relax with your child to calm the body and mind
  • Play and be active with them
  • Talk about feelings, emotions, actions & mind/body connections

Contacting the service

Our email address for contact is:

You can reach us on: 02382 310251

You can find us at:
Child Health Information Service
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
Room E48, Tom Rudd Unit,
Moorgreen Hospital, Botley Road, West End,
Southampton, Hampshire, SO30 3JB

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