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Youth independence: Adult on the outside, but still growing on the inside

July 15, 2012
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

LISBON - Youth seem to always look ahead. They don't want anyone to tell them what to do. They want to make their own decisions, be the big cheese and do their own thing. The question is, are they prepared for reality?

A 15-year-old girl said to her mother, "I'm moving out on my own. I can take care of myself. I don't need you to take care of me any more."

Mom responded, "I think not. I'm responsible for you until you are 18. I'm responsible for making sure you finish your education. I would be irresponsible if I agreed to your plan. The answer is no. There is way much you haven't learned about yet."

Mom understood that at 15 her daughter showed signs of maturity, but she was vulnerable: too trusting, too susceptible to peer pressure, and at risk for many safety issues. At 15, her daughter needed the shelter, protection and guidance of wise parents. She still needed some skills for her life-coping toolbox. And Mom believed it should come from their home environment. Parents, though, need to be well-versed in the skills to be able to teach the skills to their offspring.

There's news for you parents. You don't stop learning because you finish formal education. That's just the beginning. You've been given the tools to teach yourself for the rest of your life, and you will influence youth with your actions for the rest of your life.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Mental Heath, scientists can "track the growth of the brain and investigate the connections between brain function, development and behavior."

The teen may look grown up on the outside, but inside? The teen brain is changing strikingly. It won't look like an adult brain until the early 20s.

"Even though most adolescents come through the transitional age well, it's important to understand the risk factors for behavior that can have serious consequences," NIMH adds. "Genes, childhood experience and the environment in which a young person reaches adolescence ALL shape behavior."

At adolescence, the brain contains more gray matter than any other time. This is normal. The more basic functions mature first: processing information from the senses and controlling movement. The last to mature is control of impulses and planning ahead. The brain is building connections between the different parts of the brain which aids memory and reading abilities. Emotional responses change through experience, behavior and the urgency and intensity of emotional reactions. Adolescence is the period of best learning. It also is when sleep regulation occurs. To function best, adequate rest is needed.

Everyone has talked about the hormonal changes in specific periods of the life cycle. Youth aren't just learning to cope with sex, they are learning where they fit in with society. Stress hormones can have complex effects on the brain and behavior.

"Changes in the brain take place in the context of many other factors, among them, inborn traits, personal history, family, friends, community and culture," advises NIMH.

Researchers are still asking questions:

To what extent does what a teen does and learns shape his or her brain for the rest of a lifetime?

Why does the teen brain experience high rates of illicit substance use and alcohol abuse in late teen and early adult years?

Why do the first symptoms for many mental disorders emerge during adolescence and young adulthood?

For an informative brochure about the adolescent brain, email nimhinfo@nih.gov. Request NIH publication No. 11-4929, The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities. For more information about our education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and other mental health issues, contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

 
 

 

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