Parents and the Adolescent Brain

1) Adolescence (Note: The adult human brain is the most complicated 3-pound mass in the known universe. It contains over 10 billion neurons, and another 100 billion support cells. The 10 billion neurons also contain over 100 trillion interconnections to each other.)

a. Stages of Life: Psychologists have divided the human life into 3 different stages: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Each one of these stages is subdivided into subcategories. Our focus will be on adolescence.

b. Definition of Adolescence: Adolescence is the transitional stage occurring between childhood and adulthood. During adolescence there are several types of maturation that occur. These include cognitive (thinking skills), psychosocial (related to psychological and social factors) and biological maturation.

c. Stages of Adolescence:

i. Early Adolescence:

1. Ages 10-14 years old

2. Usually coincides with the onset of puberty

3. Involves concrete thinking (thinking in simple, tangible, real, or non-idealized terms, without drawing relations between objects or concepts)

4. Involves preoccupations and insecurities surrounding the physical changes of the body.

5. Also the beginning of increased sexual curiosity

6. Period of cognitive growth and formation of the personality

ii. Middle Adolescence:

1. Ages 15-17 years old

2. Preoccupation with gender roles, body image, and popularity

3. Preferences for spending time with friends, or people close to their age.

4. Increased risk taking behavior

5. Resistance to being different from peers

6. Physical changes of puberty are usually complete

7. Begin to imagine the consequences of their actions, but still may not fully understand them. Because of this they engage in risk taking behaviors.

iii. Late Adolescence:

1. Ages 18-20 and up

2. Development of morals, ethics and more self control.

3. Concerns about humanitarian issues and world problems

4. Some, but not all develop the ability to think abstractly (ability to calculate, sort, categorize, conceptualize, draw conclusions, or interpret and condense complex ideas.)

5. Questions about identity (identity crisis) commonly develop

6. If identity crisis is not handled effectively, adolescents may suffer from role confusion in which they do not know where they belong in the world.

7. With role confusion, adolescents may display behavior abnormalities with criminality or interest in cults, gangs, etc.

8. During this period more mature social skills develop

9. Better understanding of consequences develop

d. Puberty: Marks the transition from a relatively quiet and inactive reproductive endocrine system to a state of reproductive function that allows procreation. Onset of puberty (what triggers it is not completely understood). However, genetic factors (when did mom and grandma start), and factors such as nutrition, geographic location and exposure to light play a role.

i. Important terms:

1. The Endocrine System: Medicine defines the endocrine system as: a system made up of glands that produce and secrete hormones. These hormones regulate the body’s growth, metabolism and sexual development and function. The hormones are released into the blood stream, and may affect one or several organs throughout the body.

2. We will focus on the portions of the endocrine system that play a part in sexual development/function.

3. Primary sexual characteristics: are genetically determined characteristics. Includes having testicles or ovaries, or a penis as opposed to a vagina.

4. Secondary sexual characteristics: are physical attributes that normally develop under the influence of hormones at puberty. Examples are voice quality, facial hair, pubic hair and body fat distribution.

ii. Important structures:

1. Brain: specifically the hypothalamus, and anterior pituitary gland (often referred to as the master gland)

2. Gonads: ovaries, testicles and breasts

3. The rest of the body.

iii. Tanner Staging: A system used to stage pubertal maturation (in other words, it is used determine how far a long a person is with respect to puberty). Consists of 3 categories and 5 stages.

1. 3 categories include: 1) development of external genitalia, 2) breast enlargement in girls and 3) pubic hair distribution

2. The 5 stages range from 1 (pre-pubertal, no development) to 5 (adult, mature).

iv. Puberty in females:

1. Usually starts between 10 and 11 years of age.

2. Menarche (beginning of menstruation/periods) usually is not the first sign of puberty. Usually it is thelarche (breast development).

3. Menstruation typically begins 2-2.5 years after the development of breast buds.

4. Average age of menarche (1st period) in the US is 12 years of age

5. Menarche marks the ability to reproduce.

6. Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian axis- very important axis. This axis is working very hard during puberty.

7. The hypothalamus begins to secrete a hormone called gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH)

8. The GnRH acts on the pituitary (anterior specifically) gland.

9. The anterior pituitary then begins to secrete gonadotropins: these include leutinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)

10. These hormones act on the ovaries causing them to produce and secrete estrogens and progestins (progesterone).

11. Estrogen is a very important hormone in females during puberty. It works not only on the female reproductive tract (organs) but it also works throughout the body.

12. Estrogen is very important for the development of female secondary sexual characteristics such as: enlargement of breast, growth of body hair, widening of hips, change in distribution of fat, etc.

13. Sudden estrogen withdrawal, fluctuating levels of estrogen (as during puberty) and periods of sustained low levels of estrogen correlates with significant depression of the mood.

14. Females also produce small amounts of testosterone (compared to males). This is responsible for sexual drive.

v. Puberty in males:

1. Onset of puberty in males is between 9 and 14 years

2. Average age is 12 years, usually completed in 2 to 4 ½ years.

3. Hypothalamic-Pituitary-testicular axis- very important axis (diagram). Very active during puberty.

4. The hypothalamus begins to secrete GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone)

5. GnRH acts on the anterior pituitary causing it to release LH and FSH.

6. LH and FSH act on the testicles causing production and secretion of testosterone, and production of sperm (male reproductive cells).

7. Very high levels of testosterone present in the body cause development of secondary sexual characteristics such as:

8. Deepening of the voice, body hair growth, growth spurt, growth of facial hair, increased muscle mass, increased secretions of sweat and oil glands (causing acne)

9. Testosterone affects every tissue in the body including the brain.

10. Testosterone (males produce 10x more than females) also causes increased sex drive in males.

e. The Adolescent Brain

i. 3 very important structures during adolescence (diagram)

1. The hypothalamus: links the central nervous system to the endocrine system. Links the brain to all of those hormones mentioned earlier (LH, FSH, Testosterone, Estrogen). The hypothalamus regulates blood presure, heart rate, thirst, sexual arousal and sleep-wake cycles.

2. Prefrontal Cortex- responsible for controlling impulses, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, stopping activity upon completion, shifting or adjusting behavior when situations change, providing a temporary mental work space for working memory, organizing things, forming strategies and planning behavior, setting priorities among tasks and goals, making decisions, empathy, sensitivity to feedback, and insight. This is the CEO of the brain. This portion of the brain matures later than the rest of the brain.

3. The story of Phineas Gage

a. 1848 Phineas Gage (a railroad worker) had a 1.25 inch in diameter, 1 yard long tamping iron rocket through the bottom of his left cheek after he inadvertently set off an explosion
b. He lost consciousness briefly
c. He was able to stand up and speak afterwards
d. Gage went to the doctor and was able to walk and talk fine
e. He lived for another 13 years
f. However, those who knew him said he wasn’t the same after the accident.
g. He went from a diligent responsible person to an extremely impulsive, ill mannered person who was unable to follow through on obligations
h. His prefrontal cortex was damaged.

4. The Limbic System- composed of:

a. amygdala- important for reward, fear and processing emotional reactions
b. Hippocampus- plays a part in long term memory
c. Hypothalamus-mentioned above
d. Nucleus accumbens- active in reward, pleasure, addiction

5. The limbic system plays a role in sexual arousal and the high and subsequent addiction from certain recreational drugs (e.g. cocaine, amphetamines).

6. 1954 study of rats with electrodes placed into their nucleus accumbens

a. The rats had electrodes placed in the nucleus accumbens (the area responsible for reward, pleasure and addiction).

b. There was a button or lever placed in their cage that they could press that would cause activation of the electrodes and stimulation of the nucleus accumbens.

c. The rats continued to press the button, neglecting to do anything else. Their whole being revolved around pressing this button so that they could experience this pleasure.

ii. All of these structures are connected. The limbic system, prefrontal cortex and hypothalamus all function in regulating emotion and behavior.

iii. With that in mind consider this:

1. Recent studies show that adolescents make very difficult decisions under the influence of strong emotions (hot cognition) as compared to decisions made under low emotional arousal (cool cognition)

a. Hot cognition- responding to situation based on emotion without analyzing the response. It is difficult for this person to calm down and analyze the process properly.

b. Cold cognition- involves critical analysis of information and responses before acting them out.

iv. Because the adolescent’s prefrontal cortex (the CEO) matures later than the already highly functioning limbic system and the hypothalamus, in times of stress adolescents may be less able to vary or change the emotional component when responding to a stressor.

v. The later development of the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s CEO) but the development of the hypothalamus (sexual arousal, emotions, etc.) and the limbic system (pleasure, reward, addiction) is likely the reason for the high-risk behavior that many adolescents participate in.

vi. Be aware that Satan has a great understanding of how our whole body functions. He understands better than the greatest human scientist on earth, what we are susceptible to.

vii. Satan will try to capitalize on these vulnerabilities to destroy our youth, to destroy our families and to destroy the church.

viii. The high-risk behavior that many youth participate in ultimately leads to many hardships in the lives of adolescents and their families. For example:

1. The main causes of morbidity (suffering) in adolescent males are related to drug use, sexual activity, asthma, behavioral problems and non-fatal injuries.

2. In the United States, 16 years old is the average age of 1st sexual intercourse. By 19 years old most have had sex.

3. In a survey conducted almost ½ of high school youth have had sexual intercourse. The prevalence of sexual intercourse increases with age:

a. 33% in 9th graders
b. To 65% in 12th graders

4. 55% of males and 54% of females report having oral sex

5. 1/4th of STI’s occur in people age 15-24.

6. 1 in 4 women 14 to 19 have been infected with at least one STI.

7. The highest rates of Chlamydia (a sexually transmitted disease) are among those 15 to 19 years old.

8. The highest rates of Gonorrhea are among females 14 to 19 years old.

9. Among teens there are over 470,000 births and 500,000 abortions annually.

10. The social implications on teen pregnancy are many:

a. Mothers are less likely to receive a high school diploma, more likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance for long periods of time, and they are at increased risk for intimate partner violence.

b. Fathers usually have fewer years of schooling than older fathers, they usually earn less income, and are less likely to have a job.

c. The child born to the teen parents are more likely to have health and mental disorders, they are more likely to be neglected or abused, and females are more likely to have an adolescent pregnancy and males have higher rates or incarceration.

11. Drug abuse is also a high-risk behavior that many adolescents participate in.

12. The average age of first drug use is 13 (12 for alcohol)

13. Over 50% of high school seniors have tried drugs.

14. Nearly 1 in 16 have tried crack or cocaine.

15. 33% of 4th graders reported peer pressure to try alcohol or marijuana.

16. 1 in 10 high school seniors reported non-medical used of vicodin.

17. Risk factors for illicit drug use are:

a. Genetic predisposition (for addiction)
b. Use of drugs by family and friends
c. Easy access to drugs
d. Low levels of parental involvement and support
e. Poverty

18. Risk factors for alcohol use are:

a. Genetic predisposition (for alcoholism)
b. Use and abuse of alcohol by parents and peers
c. Low levels of parental involvement

19. Risk factors for tobacco use are:

a. Parental smoking and tobacco use
b. Easy access to cigarettes and other tobacco products
c. No restrictions on smoking in the home

20. Things that protect against these behaviors are:

a. Stable home environment
b. Parental supervision
c. Membership in positive social organizations
d. Academic achievement
e. Association with abstinent peers.

21. All of these things are why the leadership at Annapolis Park is teaching the importance of parental involvement, all parents being on the same page and having the same mind and gathering an understanding of what our children are dealing with.

4) So now that we have a better understanding of what our youth are experiencing physically, emotionally and intellectually we have to ask ourselves some questions.

a. What have we been allowing our children to participate in that would allow Satan to capitalize on their vulnerabilities?

i. For example, have we been doing as Romans 13:14 instructed us not to do? It says But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.

1. Webster’s dictionary defines provision as an arrangement or preparation made before hand; something provided or supplied.

2. This means everything is in place for a person to commit a sin, and fulfill the lusts of their flesh.

3. What kind of things have we allowed our children to get involved in?

4. Are they fully capable of deciding whether or not they can handle certain situations?

5. Can our children handle dating, or being around other children who do?

6. Are our children ready for holding hands, hugging, kissing, dancing or intimate touching with members of the opposite sex?

7. Are they likely to exercise the proper judgment in these situations?

8. Who are our children befriending? Who are we allowing them to spend time with?

9. Do their parents teach and believe the same things that we do?

10. Based on the information presented here, we would be setting our children up for failure if we encouraged them to get involved with dating or befriending people who do.

11. What have we allowed them to do? What failure are we setting them up for?

12. We must try with all of our being to make sure that we are trying to help our children “Abstain from all appearance of evil.

ii. Are we as parents of the same mind?

1. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:1-4 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

2. It is very important for Christian parents to teach the same thing to our children. Satan loves it when we teach different things or when we appear divided. He loves confusion.

3. We develop the same mind as parents by attending the same classes, such as bible classes and the parent/youth meetings.

4. We develop the same mind by personal bible study (studying to show ourselves approved) and by praying together and spending time together.

iii. The things that adolescents are going through physically, emotionally, intellectually are not wrong in and of themselves. God did not make any part of our body sinful. These are natural processes that we all must go through.

iv. However, Satan will use whatever he can to get us to stray away from God. For example, look at what he did when he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4).

v. He tried to use the natural physiological processes of hunger and thirst to get him to sin. And just as Jesus resisted the devil, so can we, and so can our youth.

vi. If these processes were sinful in and of themselves it would be very difficult for us to do as Proverbs 22:6 instructs us to do. It says train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

5) Conclusion:
– As parents we are responsible for providing for our children in everyway. This involves learning about what their specific needs are. Some of them have needs that others don’t. Our children’s needs are not always obvious or right before us, but we need to be willingly and prayerfully searching for everyway that we can help our children. We have to be accountable. It is up to us as parents to teach our children, and to rear them in the way that they should go, and to navigate them through this life.