this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. this is part 1 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section are notes from todd’s presentation to us. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.
Unraveling the Mystery of Maturity: “A Look inside the Adolescent Brain.”
The brain is involved in everything you do
Who you are…
How do you know unless you look? Brain imaging can be very helpful.
Brain works on glucose though blood flow
Functional scans vs. anatomical scans – how they work vs. its anatomy – “Primal Teen” looks at the anatomical scan – Todd’s clinic uses Functional scans
Brain is not fully developed until 25
We need to take care of brains
Myelinization of brain neurons – the book says it’s the difference between going 2 miles/hour NASCAR. In reality, speed of information via neurons increases 200x’s when Myelinization takes place
– Physical Maturity comes to fruition between 16-18: This is when your full potential is in place – practice can make it better, but your potential is there
– Knowledge Maturity peaks at 18-20:
– Wisdom Maturity peaks at 25 – rental car companies won’t rent until 25 because they know this
Prefrontal cortex – first/front 1/3 of our brain is the last to mature. This is the part of the brain that separates us from all the other animals. No other species has the capacity of the prefrontal cortex that humans do. Dogs are 7%, cats 4.5%, people 32%
Phineas Gage – railroad worker with damage to prefrontal cortex – personality changed after the accident – he was no longer himself. Which one was the real Phineas Gage?
What does the Prefrontal Cortex do?
– Focus – have a hard time focusing on things and not being distracted by everything else in the room
– Forethought – not being able to see consequences
– Impulse Control
– Organization – tasks, time, etc.
– Planning – without this, we live in the hear-and-now – it’s hard for teens to make decisions based on whats coming up in the future and the need to plan for it. Do you know where you’re going to be this weekend? What about young kids? What about your dog? Do they know, do they care? What difference does this make?
– Empathy – being able to see what you do and how it affects others – seeing something from someone else’s point of view.
– Insight – into behaviors
– Emotional control: Acting out a negative emotion instead of being able to control this emotion
Maturity vs. Intelligence: They are not the same. Because a person gets good grades, does not mean he is mature. These are totally different process in the brain. Maturity will typically catch up in intelligent people.
Prefrontal Moral Strengths: – how many times do we judge a person morally based on the under developed prefrontal cortex? i.e. a teenager does something stupid and we judge his moral conviction based on this impulsive act. “Apparent Hypocrisy” – he does believe that stealing is wrong, but he acted impulsively and stole something and does not really know why. He is not hypocritical, but he acts like he is.
Phil: Does getting busted help them or hurt them? Do you let a kid go because of this? Do we use this as a crutch?
Todd: NO – we don’t let them get away with it. We need to let them live with the consequences. Guilt and shame do not work to our advantage, but allowing someone to suffer consequences to his/her actions does help them begin to learn and understand and “develop” these skills
Temporal Lobe Functions:
If they have problems with the left temporal lobe – hostility can be a real issue. Frustration builds up until it explodes.
Sensitivity to slight – if someone cuts you off, a person with this issue will say “that person did that to piss me off.” They over-react.
Hostile Dependency – still dependant on their parents, but they are hostile about this relationship. They are “ready” for independence, but are fighting with parents who are still the ones making the decisions. The kid is dependent on the parent, but does not want to be.
When do the temporal lobes come into maturity? 18-20. – we can expect to see these same struggles in young teens because of the lack of development in the temporal lobes.
Right Temporal Lobes: If there is trouble here, they often can’t read the emotions of another person. Can’t see it in his face.
A person who is a victim of abuse has a unique ability to read emotions – can do this very well because they have been forced to do so.
This person may also struggle with knowing how they come across to other people. They don’t really know that what they say may be hurtful to those around them. Do not know they are mean or hurtful.
Violence and aggression:
2 types – hot and cold
– Hot: explode after a buildup and they get to the boiling point. This can be helped via therapy.
– Cold: you methodically plan for some form of violence. This can’t really be helped via therapy.
Optimizing the brain:
Does prayer really help? Studies have found meditation improved the right temporal lobe activity –
Drugs can be good for some parts of the brain, but at the same time, it’s doing bad things to another part of the brain.
clearly, puberty has dropped dramatically in age.
100 lbs and 20% body fat is the place where girls bodies are ready for childbirth. We are reaching this at an earlier age (the body signals the start of puberty when these thresholds are met). The brain, however, is not developed. Improved nutrition can get to this body mass earlier.
There is no “puberty central” in the brain. Hormones activate certain genes all over the brain that will kick growth processes into gear.
Kissinger Effect: The younger you learn something, the more natural it is. Kissinger came to America at age 12 and spoke with an accent his entire life. His younger brother came to America at 10 and had no accent.
Sport: Is it better to do one sport with great intensity or multiple sports less intensely?
The earlier you start an activity (drugs, violence, etc…) the more natural these activities become in your brain.
Exercise is great for the brain
– Teenagers have the worst sleep patterns of anyone – the body wants to be in a rhythm and teens are in anything but a rhythm.
– Why do they stay up later?
– Not as much physical activity
– More “things” to do
Relationships can change your brain: they learn empathy and other skills in relationship
How do you deal with parents who give their kids a pass on everything and they blame it on the brain or issues?
Can ADD drugs help? Yes – good drugs can be helpful.
Can we look at kids with “ADD” and know who really has it? Yes – when someone has a complete change immediately after starting medication, it’s clear they have ADD. If a person does not really make a drastic change, it’s likely they are not actually ADD. The drugs are buying us time for the brain to naturally develop. As kids get older, let’s take you off the medication and see how you react.
Most are not using the brain scans – it’s more of a hit and miss medication approach.
Anti-social is NOT “Norman Bates” in the movie Psycho. Instead, they’re often very nice and fun to be around – but they’re manipulative, pathological liars, impulsive, irresponsible. They will blame behavior on everyone else. Consequences are the only thing that can help these kids. There is no fear and threats don’t work. Guilt does not work. But you must follow through with the consequences.
Referral – Danny Levine – is a great resource for parents, knows places where kids can be sent. You call her and she will give you a few ideas of where to send your kid.
Where is the hope? The development comes, the question is can they make it through the time in life (15-30) when they may do something that sends them to prison for their entire life?