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Links and refs: Adolescent Brains and Lives

MY MESSAGE AND AIM

I promote a clear, current, scientific and evidence-based understanding of what makes adolescence “special”, different in some ways from both childhood and adulthood. Adolescence means “becoming adult” and important changes enable that transition. It’s a natural, positive, temporary (!) and biologically-driven stage, which is, of course, also affected by culture and environment but is not primarily caused by them.

Of course, teenagers are also humans just like the rest of us. Also, of course, they are different from each other: some go through adolescence more easily than others. But the science is strong: a set of experiences, behaviours, chemical and brain changes happen during this period, which are identifiable as natural features of adolescence, despite individual and cultural differences. We accept that certain things happen in brain development, making newborn babies different from toddlers, and toddlers different from nine year olds; similarly, development in adolescence, usually starting between 10 and 12, sees the brain mature into a state in which independence can eventually happen. It’s a good thing!

Understanding about it is a very good thing, for both young people and the adults who care about them.


RESOURCES ABOUT THE TEENAGE BRAIN

(Including specific research informing particular chapters of Blame My Brain)

Teenage brain in general

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Over 100 years old now but still of interest to provide context, GS Hall’s “Storm and Stress” theory https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201309/storming-adulthood“Adolescence is a time of trauma and upheaval, storm and stress.

  • “Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered” – The abstract is fascinating and I agree with it: “ S. Hall’s (1904) view that adolescence is a period of heightened “storm and stress” is reconsidered in light of contemporary research. The author provides a brief history of the storm-and-stress view and examines 3 key aspects of this view: conflict with parents, mood disruptions, and risk behavior. In all 3 areas, evidence supports a modified storm-and-stress view that takes into account individual differences and cultural variations. Not all adolescents experience storm and stress, but storm and stress is more likely during adolescence than at other ages. Adolescent storm and stress tends to be lower in traditional cultures than in the West but may increase as globalization increases individualism. Similar issues apply to minority cultures in American society. Finally, although the general public is sometimes portrayed by scholars as having a stereotypical view of adolescent storm and stress, both scholars and the general public appear to support a modified storm-and-stress view.” http://webspace.pugetsound.edu/facultypages/cjones/adoldev/arnett.pdf

“How does the teenage brain work?” – Nature: faculty.vassar.edu/abbaird/about/press/articles/Nature2006.pdf

“Why parents may not matter as much as peers” – Scientific American: scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=parents-peers-children

Blame My Brain

My book, Blame My Brain – the Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, was first published in 2005, was updated slightly in 2007 and more extensively in 2013 and now has new material for 2022, including a new chapter on social media. It is widely read all over the world, not only by the teenagers it was written for, but by parents, teachers and other professionals. It is recommended on reading lists at universities and on teaching and social work courses, and by schools, and is one of the UK’s Books on Prescription, along with The Teenage Guide to Stress. Below is some of the research on which it is based.

Blame My Brain was the first book in the world to explain their brains to teenagers.

My later book, Positively Teenage, is broader and shallower, mentioning brain changes as well as all the social changes that make life different for 10-18 year-olds compared to children and adults. It promotes a positive view of adolescence and is empowering and reassuring. (You will find a special section on the research quoted in Positively Teenage further down this page.)

A few key pieces by me:

An explanation for teenage bedrooms – with science!  https://www.nicolamorgan.com/heartsong-blog/teenage-bedrooms-an-explanation/

“How do I understand my teenage boy?” https://www.nicolamorgan.com/heartsong-blog/how-do-i-understand-my-teenage-boy/

A video interview (from 2011) in which I talk about the teenage brain at the (very noisy) Edinburgh Book Fest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=qGb0QOkeWhs&NR=1

Specific subjects

Sleep

See below under Teenagers and Sleep

Emotion

Risk-taking

Alcohol/drugs

Social brain (including self-consciousness)

Sex/gender 

(I’ve included a lot of links here. Many of these points are referred to in the sex/gender differences chapter of Blame My Brain and there I discuss to what extent any differences might be mostly based on biology/nature or mostly based on culture/nurture.) My inclusion of any specific study does not mean I agree with it but that it is worth reading and considering when weighing up what you think about all this. Also that it could be a starting point for your own further reading.)

Full disclosure: my opinion, after reading, thinking and listening a lot, is that there are some differences between typical male and typical female behaviour and biology. Sometimes those differences are very tiny; some are much smaller than some people think they are; some are larger and more profound. Often the differences are either caused by or increased by environment/society/culture and expectations. But they are “real” in two ways: a) they are commonly experienced and/or perceived, which makes them important to those who experience or perceive them; and b) some at least are at least partly caused by biology, whether that’s from genes, hormones or other physical characteristics. How much is biology and how much is culture is up for debate – let’s have that debate, calmly, respectfully and intelligently. This is not a binary topic.

“Massive study reveals few differences between female and male brains”: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/rfuo-msr032521.php

Map-making: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151207081824.htm

Language: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444641236000072

Laterality and symmetry:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1357650X.2018.1497044

Sex differences in the Human brain – Larry Cahill for the Dana Foundation: https://dana.org/article/equal-%e2%89%a0-the-same-sex-differences-in-the-human-brain/

Testosterone reduces empathy – (according to a very small study): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453016300671

“Sex Differences in the Drain: The Not So Inconvenient Truth”: https://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/7/2241.short (Margaret M. McCarthy et al Journal of Neuroscience 15 Feb 2012)

“Understanding the broad influence of sex hormones and sex differences in the brain”: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jnr.23809 (Bruce S. McEwen and Teresa A. Milner – Journal of Neuroscience Research 07 November 2016) – referring to “the myriad actions of sex hormones on cognitive function, mood, neuroprotection, addiction, blood pressure, fine motor skills, motor coordination, and pain.”.[…] note that there are, in the brain, few sexual dimorphisms, that is, complete differences between males and females. … the vast majority of sex differences are far more subtle and involve patterns of connectivity and brain regional differences that are the subject of controversy ….”

Stress: “…females have a heightened sensitivity to stress (Becker et al., 2007; Milner et al., 2013) and can show enhanced cognitive performance following stress (Luine et al)

“…there are sex differences in the disorders associated with the cerebellum, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia in males” (Dean and McCarthy, 2008; Hedges et al., 2012).

“Clinical studies indicate that morphine is less potent in women compared with men in alleviating pain.” – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4127352/

Sex in the Brain – hormones and sex differences – Marrocco and McEwen 2016 – “…subtle sex differences are now being recognized in brain regions and functions not previously regarded as subject to such differences, indicating that we are entering a new era of our ability to understand and appreciate the diversity of gender‐related behaviors and brain functions.”

“Complementarity of sex differences in brain and behavior: From laterality to multimodal neuroimaging” – Gur and Gur 2016 – “Although, overwhelmingly, behavior is similar in males and females, and, correspondingly, the brains are similar, sex differences permeate both brain and behavioral measures, and these differences have been the focus of increasing scrutiny by neuroscientists. This Review describes milestones from more than 3 decades of research in brain and behavior. … Sex differences were apparent and consistent in neurocognitive measures, with females performing better on memory and social cognition tasks and males on spatial processing and motor speed. Sex differences were also prominent in all major brain parameters, including higher rates of cerebral blood flow, higher percentage of gray matter tissue, and higher interhemispheric connectivity in females, compared with higher percentage of white matter and greater intrahemispheric connectivity as well as higher glucose metabolism in limbic regions in males. Many of these differences are present in childhood, but they become more prominent with adolescence, perhaps linked to puberty.” […] “….Sex differences had smaller effects but were nonetheless notable, with females outperforming males on attention, word and face memory, reasoning speed, and all social cognition tests and males outperforming females in spatial processing and motor speed. These sex differences in most domains were seen already at the youngest age groups, and age group × sex interactions indicated divergence at the oldest groups, with females becoming faster but less accurate than males. Thus, performance was sexually modulated, and most sex differences were apparent by early adolescence.” […] These findings support the notion that males and females have complementary neurocognitive abilities, with females being more generalists and outperforming males in memory and social cognition tasks and males being more specialists and performing better than females on spatial and motor tasks. […] Men and women differ in emotion processing, including perception, experience, and expression, which is most notably reflected in greater male aggression.”

“Sex differences in behavior and neural development and their role in adolescent vulnerability to substance use” – Hammerslag and Gulley 2016 – “Adolescents are especially prone to risky behavior and to the emergence of psychological disorders like substance abuse, anxiety and depression. However, there is a sex (or gender) difference in this vulnerability, with females being more prone to developing internalizing disorders and males being more likely to engage in risky behavior and drug use.”

“Adolescent Gender Differences in Cognitive Control Performance and Functional Connectivity Between Default Mode and Fronto-Parietal Networks Within a Self-Referential Context” – Alarcon, Pfeifer, Fair and Nagel 2018 – “The adolescent period is characterized by pronounced maturation of social, cognitive and biological processes that lead to distinct developmental outcomes for girls and boys. These outcomes include normative, as well as psychopathological gender differences, like higher rates of depression in adolescent girls compared to boys.”

Mental health gender/sex differences – Gender differences in mental health problems among adolescents and the role of social support: results from the Belgian health interview surveys 2008 and 2013

“Teen girls have different brains: Gender, neuroscience and the truth about adolescence” – https://www.salon.com/2015/01/03/teen_girls_have_different_brains_gender_neuroscience_and_the_truth_about_adolescence/

Age-Related Effects and Sex Differences in Gray Matter Density, Volume, Mass, and Cortical Thickness from Childhood to Young Adulthood” – Gennatas, Avants, Wolf et al

Stress and anxiety

(See the Research section of my website, WELLBEING and STRESS MANAGEMENT)

SPECIFIC RESOURCES FOR POSITIVELY TEENAGE

(I mention lots of resources in the book and I’ve put a selection here)

General resources for young people

Agnes – the life guide for girls. I think this is an awesome site and I wish I could find something for boys: agnesforgirls.com/

Health for Teens: www.healthforteens.co.uk

Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens

General resources for parents

The Parenting Place: www.theparentingplace.com/ (NZ)

School A to Z – (Australian) It covers all ages but the sections on Wellbeing and on Home and study could be useful for parents of teenagers: www.schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au/home

Your teenage body

Aimed at girls: www.girlshealth.gov/body/index.html

Aimed at boys: www.youngmenshealthsite.org

Aimed at all: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/puberty/Pages/puberty-signs.aspx

Body image

Media Smart has a brilliant resource aimed at boys but also useful for girls: mediasmart.uk.com/resources/teaching-resources/body-image-1

PBS Parents on raising a girl with positive body image: www.pbs.org/parents/parenting/raising-girls/body-image-identity/raising-a-girl-with-a-positive-body-image/

Kids Health for teenagers: kidshealth.org/en/teens/body-image.html

Kids Health for parents: kidshealth.org/en/parents/body-image.html

Introversion/extroversion

Quiet Power: Growing Up as an Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – a book aimed at young people, parents and schools, especially focusing on being an introvert in school

The Quiet Revolution website, with advice and stories for introverts and extroverts on how to appreciate our quiet sides:  www.quietrev.com/

A good and detailed look at what it means being introverted or extroverted:  www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/opinion/introvert-extrovert-what-does-it-mean-20160463230

This is a nice interview with Susan Cain, aimed at parents of introverted teenagers, but I think there’s lots in it for young people, too: http://yourteenmag.com/family-life/communication/susan-cain-introverted

-teenager

Feeling shy

A couple of reassuring looks at shyness and social phobia: Moodjuice: www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/shynesssocialphobia.asp and Kids Health http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/shy-tips.html

Build resilience

A useful webpage with advice directed at young people, from Child and Youth Health: www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=243&np=293&id=2198

See my book Be Resilient, 2021

Build a growth mindset

Matthew Syed’s TED talk encouraging people to acknowledge failure and confront mistakes to promote progression:

Carol Dweck talks about “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”. Both these pages are aimed mostly at adults, with the second one particularly at teachers: http://big-change.org/growth-mindset-research-2/ and www.mindsetworks.com/science/

Notice “what went well”

Here’s a link to Martin Seligman’s “Three Blessings” exercise.

On the Action for Happiness website there is a great set of resources and ideas.

Eat well

Healthy weight  and BMIkidshealth.org/en/teens/bmi.html

Healthy eating, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/healthy-eating-teens.aspx and from Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/food-fitness/

Be active 

From the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx and from Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/exercise-wise.html

The Brainflux website details many benefits to exercise and links to research for each, including improving willpower, concentration, memory and sleep: thebrainflux.com/brain-benefits-of-exercise/

Some links to research about sedentary behaviour from this NHS page: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/sitting-and-sedentary-behaviour-are-bad-for-your-health.aspx

World Health Organisation guidelines: www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_young_people/en/

Ideas for exercising without going to a gym or playing organised sport, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/Getfitwithoutgym.aspx

Sleep 

For ALL the info on sleep, see my book, The Awesome Power of Sleep, published Jan 2021

From Kids Health: kidshealth.org/en/teens/tips-sleep.html?WT.ac=p-ra

Aimed at parents, from the NHS: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Childrenssleep/Pages/teensleeptips.aspx

Aimed at teenagers and including sections on nightmares and bad dreams, from Young Minds: youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/sleep-problems/

National Sleep Foundation webpages for teenagers: sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep

Later school start times – benefit reported in study from Seattle: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aau6200

Go to my blog and put “sleep” in the search box.

Distraction

(See also Social brain above)

A really good article aimed at teenagers on Teen Ink: www.teenink.com/hot_topics/what_matters/article/781313/Digital-Distraction/

Ideas to help us all manage screen time well: healthykidshealthyfuture.org/5-healthy-goals/reduce-screen-time/resources/ and from the BBC: www.bbc.com/future/story/20131010-lose-the-phone-reclaim-your-life

Websites to help you

These sites have extensive, quality advice on a range of topics.

 


I hope you have found this selection of resources useful. Remember they are only starting points and there are many articles and resources in the rest of my website, my books and teaching materials. Do ask me to come and speak to your audience: See the Speaking section of my website.

 

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