Brain science has shown that irritability in teenagers is normal

Michelle Ward, The Canadian Press

For many mothers of young children, Mother’s Day is like homemade cards and kisses. This is not so much the case with mothers of teenagers who often wonder why their children seem upset at their presence.

“My daughter is the best person in the world to have her eyes focused on. I think most of the things I do upset her,” said Katherine Henderson, a clinical psychologist in Ottawa.

She and other experts say that if it happens at home, it’s normal and probably a sign of a healthy mother-child relationship. The science of brain development in adolescents also explains this.

Even though it has long been known that a teenager’s brain is differently wired than that of a child or an adult, a significant study published last month mapped brain development as a whole. life and shows stages of neurodevelopment during adolescence.

“The size of the human brain and its overall variability between populations is unknown, from a quantitative perspective,” said Jakob Seidlitz, postdoctoral researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature.

Based on more than 120,000 MRI scans taken from more than 100 studies and representing more than 100,000 people from before birth to age 100, the researchers mapped the development of the human brain. throughout life.

Studies have shown that adolescence is a unique time of brain development, just as it is a unique time of physical, social and emotional development. In the same way that a child’s weight, height and head circumference can be mapped with ages, brain architecture can be reproduced.

The brain begins to grow in utero, reaches about half of its size at birth, and reaches its peak size in mid-adolescence. After that, its size gradually decreases throughout life.

As the brain progresses, different structures and areas mature at different rates. The study showed that subcortical or deep gray matter, a region that has multiple functions including emotion control, increases in size in mid-adolescence.

Meanwhile, the amount of gray matter in the brain increases before that, at the onset of school age, and decreases in adolescence, while the amount of white matter, or the connections between brain cells, continues. to multiply. 28 years.

These brain development patterns can also help explain how teens respond to important adolescent tasks. Teenagers move from more concrete to abstract thinking and learn to solve problems in more complex ways. They separated from their parents and created their own identity.

“Teenagers have a hard time modulating their emotions,” says Drs. Alene Toulany, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

An emotional signal “like a doorbell to an adult, like a gong to a teenager […] it is strong and intense. That’s part of why they have such a strong reaction, Ms. Toulany. They are not trying to be angry. They really are. “

“What is usually unpredictable and severe for a parent is actually very predictable,” explains Dr. Toulany. I expect there to be conflict between the teenagers and their parents. ”

“The fact that parents are less likely to annoy their children over time is a nice definition of brain development,” he says.

The challenge for parents, according to Ms Henderson, is to recognize that behaviors mean the child needs more space to take risks, try new things and develop individuality.

“They’re not the ones who want to disconnect,” Ms. Henderson, though in appearance. It can be harder for parents to stay in that deep unconditional love and listening place, but that’s what teenagers need, ”he said.

“When kids show resentment towards their parents, it’s usually because they feel safe expressing themselves,” Katherine Henderson said.

While parents may stay in their teens as the brain develops into their 20s and 30s, their values ​​and behaviors “often seem very similar to their parents’, although they may not otherwise be this way. looks like a teenager, “added Ms. Henderson.

One of the lessons from the study of brain mapping is that for most teenagers, their brains will continue to develop in predictable ways as they progress into adulthood.

Ms. Henderson’s advice for parents? “Huwata […] and install noise canceling headphones. The rolled eye is not a sign of disrespect. It shows a certainty in the relationship, to disagree, ”Henderson said.

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