Your Brain: 6 Facts You May Not Know

Your teen years are an intense time of growth and change, especially when it comes to your brain! You may wonder why you feel so stressed or why you have such big emotions in response to something. A lot of what you are going through as a teenager can be explained by the complex changes going on inside your head. Keep reading to learn more about your amazing brain!

1. Your brain continues to change and mature AFTER it’s done growing!

Your amygdala, which is responsible for immediate or “gut” reactions and contributes to feelings of fear and aggression, reaches its greatest size during puberty. But like many other parts of your brain, the amygdala continues “reorganizing” its connections with other parts of your brain through your 20s! Your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and logical thought, also continues to mature into your mid-to-late 20s.

If you ever experience overwhelming emotions or make quick decisions that you sometimes regret, try to take a minute to breathe and think through your options. Remember that your brain still has a lot of maturing to doeven after your turn 18.

The prefrontal cortex is involved in logical, thoughtful, and controlled processes. The amygdala is involved in the fight or flight response, reactions, and emotions.

2. Your brain is experiencing a lot of stress.

You probably don’t need a website to tell you that your teen years are STRESSFULfor your body and your brain! Research has shown that the teen brain relies more on the amygdala (the emotional reaction center) than the adult brain, which could explain why you may feel the emotional effects of music, friendships, and conflict more than many adults do.

Your brain is still learning how to respond to stressful situations, whether that tensions comes from academics, social relationships, or physical activity. Studies have shown that teen brains react more strongly to stress than child or adult brains!

The next time you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or scared, remember that your brain is working overtime to understand the signals it’s getting from your surroundings. Be kind to yourself and your changing brain. Try some of these mindfulness tips to ground yourself when emotions are high.

Cortisol is the brain's stress hormone. The brain system that controls cortisol levels is closely tied to the brain system that controls puberty hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

3. Your brain is extremely adaptable and ready to learn!

The teen brain is constantly forming new connections between different behavioral control centers, like the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. As you learn new things, your brain changes at the neuron level!  This is called neuroplasticity.

Engaging in a challenging new course, sport, or creative activity can help your brain form new connections. Your teen years are one of the best times for learning new things, because your brain is forming and solidifying more connections now than in most other periods of your life.

  • If you’ve already decided that you’re not the best student or could never do well in a new subject or skill, remember your incredible brain and remind yourself that despite past experiences, you have the ability to grow and succeed and to  learn new things.
Neuroplasticity is defined as the neurons in your brain are forming new connections all the time! New connections are created and broken as you learn.

4. Your brain wants to feel accepted by other people.

Changes in your brain during your teen years result in a greater sensitivity to the social signals you receive from other people, especially your peers. This means that you may experience a very strong feeling of accomplishment when you receive compliments or encouragement from other teens, but you may also feel intense sadness or embarrassment when you feel rejected or criticized by peers.

You have likely experienced this feeling while using social media, which provides signs of social acceptance or rejection. “Likes” can communicate positive feedback and comments can communicate either support or criticism. It’s so easy to make assumptions about your “social status” when you unfairly compare yourself with others based on the number of followers or likes. You are so much more than a number on a screen.

  • Remember that everyone feels rejected and left out sometimes, and feelings in response to rejection may be especially intense in adolescents. It takes practice to learn to manage these emotions. Catch yourself if your brain is too focused on the number of likes or other aspects of social media that may lead to distress. Take this quiz to learn more about how social media might be affecting your mental health.
GIF with a cat getting positive and negative feedback. The cat wears a shirt that says, "I'm confused".

5. Your brain is a thrill-seeker and risk-taker.

Because the amygdala contributes to impulsive or reactive decision-making and is more involved in decision-making during your teen years, you may feel more curious about risky activities like smoking, having sex, drinking alcohol, or dangerous driving. This curiosity is a completely normal part of growing up.

Research shows that when you are around your friends you are more likely to make a risky decision. This could be because your brain experiences a greater sense of reward when taking a risk in front of friends, so you might equate that positive feeling with the risky activity.

Your brain likes taking risks.  But positive feelings don't always lead to positive outcomes.

6. Your brain is unique.

The human brain is a growing and changing organ that is affected by your genetics, the people in your life, where you live, what you eat and drink, and how you exercise. It has changed, and will continue to change, with every small experience or decision you make! Your brain is uniquely you.

  • Your teen years are a time to explore new skills, subject areas, and relationships with other people. Taking healthy risks is important to fulfill your brain’s need for change and new experiences, while also setting you up for success.
  • You might experience some challenges others don’t, or you might easily find success where others struggle to keep up. Remember you are a work in progress. You can always change your mind, make a healthy decision, grow from an experience, or overcome an obstacle.
Your brain is growing, changing, maturing, learning, and rewiring.