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Entire body engulfed by an overfit hoodie, vibing with both ears blocked with earbuds, and hovering somewhere between daydream and reality. This is the typical look that people think of when they are told to describe a teenager. So far, people judged teenagers negatively compared to other norms of people like babies, children, adults and seniors. However, the reason for them to act like a ‘teenager’ is that they are passing through a stage in their life called adolescence.

Adolescence is one of the inevitable changes that we have to face during our lifespan. Many people are familiar with how the child’s physical body develops during this time period. Yet, cognitive development is less known by the majority often being generalized as teens being moody. But it’s more than that. When a child is in their puberty, the brain starts to function differently. One of the Limbic systems called amygdala triggers the emotions of the child. Another system called the hypothalamus controls the hormones that are carried around the body. The prefrontal cortex, which is managing the high-order cognition of the child and corpus callosum working as the connection between hemispheres in the brain. The children’s brain develops from back to front. This tells us that the Limbic systems will develop first, triggering the hormones and emotional side of the person before the cognition can intrude on them. Due to the structure of brain development during adolescence, the communication between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system wasn’t accomplished fast enough making the teenagers harder to control their emotional impulses. 

To view our brain in a bigger context, there are some global changes – increase in myelination and synaptic pruning. Myelination is a fatty tissue that covers the axons of the neurons, accelerating the communication between neurons. This can help explain why adolescents are able to learn a 2nd language more easily than other grown-ups. Also, there is an increase in synaptic pruning. This is a process where the brain makes decisions to break the unused connection between neurons and focus on only the most frequently accessed connections. Although it gives an excellent opportunity to strengthen synaptic connections, it can also easily decay valuable expertise that was maintained in the brain if you don’t exercise the muscles. Basically, what our brain mature during adolescence, that brain is retained until adulthood. Therefore building positive habits is crucial during this period of time. 

The thriving opportunity of adolescence will not only bring optimistic results. The research conducted by Harvard University showed that ‘adolescents felt more embarrassed when they were made to feel like they were being watched and socially evaluated.’ Consequently, many adolescents will lack self-esteem, trying to fit in the perspective of others. This may lead them to feel unhappy with themselves and to teen depression. Research provided that about 20% of people in adolescence experience depression but only 30% are treated. If this progress further, there is a high possibility of an adolescent taking an irreversible action: suicide. 

Adolescence itself is a huge swing to adulthood. Our future depends on whether we fall off the swing or overwhelm it.

Freesia Kim
Freesia Kim

Student of NLCS Jeju
Member of NLCS Jeju Youth Psychology Society


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