How does the adolescent brain work

Parents of adolescents can tell a thing or two about it: Young people ignore regulations and even laws, often just to do completely senseless and sometimes dangerous things. They also show a noticeable tendency to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Boys in particular show an increased willingness to take risks, which, for example, means that they are particularly at risk in road traffic.

In addition, children in puberty constantly plunge adults into confusion, for example when they react completely impulsively for a trivial reason or fall into deep melancholy, which gives way to hysterical enthusiasm for weird idols the next day.

During puberty, there is no doubt about this, the psyche of children changes in a way that adults can hardly understand - at least as long as they try to understand the reasons and motives of the young people from a rational perspective.

It may be easier to deal with when you realize the following: The development of the brain during puberty is reminiscent of a major construction site. Individual parts must first develop their correct shape before they can be integrated into the structure. And that does not happen at a steady pace: The individual construction phases finish the redesign at different speeds.

The sex hormones trigger physical development towards sexual maturity from around the age of ten to twelve. However, all of our behaviors that go beyond reflexes are related to the structure of the brain, i.e. to the organization of different regions of the brain and the processes that take place in it. This structure also defines the framework in which our personality, our character, our self-awareness and thus our behavior in the social environment develop. This is a consequence of our evolution to modern humans with their broad, but ultimately limited range of behaviors and tendencies. It is no wonder that in the course of this restructuring process the demeanor of the youngsters also changes - sometimes unpredictably for themselves, and from one moment to the next.

The brain regions change at different speeds

Scientifically, the conversion process has not yet been clarified down to the last detail. However, research has now tracked down some important steps on the way from children's to adult brains.

At the start of puberty, for example, the gray matter of the cerebral cortex, which is formed by the nerve cells and synapses, "matures". A great many of these connections between the nerve cells are formed during the learning processes in childhood. In the case of young people, however, a large part is dissolved again. Only those that are actually used again and again are retained. At the same time, there is apparently an expansion of the nerve fibers through which the information between the nerve cells is now transmitted more quickly. This expansion leads to an increase in the so-called white matter.

The speed of the brain and thus of the thought processes - the computing power of the brain - increases many times over. Young people develop the ability to think just as "quickly" as adults.

At the beginning of puberty, however, this applies first of all to parts of the brain that are needed for controlling movements, perception, orientation and language. And due to the order in which the different regions change, the behavior of young people is initially still particularly strongly influenced by the so-called limbic system.

Its work is related to the emotions. In particular the so-called almond kernel (Amygdala), which processes information from outside, apparently plays an important role. The also has a strong influence Nucleus accumbens with its dopamine receptors. If the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, feelings of happiness arise. We humans go for circumstances that provoke this reaction - a good meal, meeting friends. This also includes situations that give us a "kick" or a "thrill" due to the risk we are taking. This is the same for young people as it is for adults. And we can experience these feelings in reality, but we can also trigger them through films and video games.

But because the number of dopamine receptors in adolescents is apparently still relatively small, they seem to perceive situations that adults already consider to be exciting as less exciting. You need stronger triggers. Presumably this explains a certain tendency towards drugs and alcohol. Intoxicant consumption leads to the release of dopamine.