Contrary to what most parents have thought at least once, "teens
really do have brains," quipped Dr. Jay Giedd, NIMH intramural scientist,
in a lecture on the "Teen Brain Under Construction." His talk was
the kick-off event for the recent NIH Parenting Festival.
|Dr. Jay Giedd
Giedd said scientists have only recently learned more about the
trajectories of brain growth. One of the findings he discussed
showed the frontal cortex area — which governs judgment,
decision-making and impulse control — doesn't fully mature
until around age 25.
"That really threw us," he said. "We used to joke about having
to be 25 to rent a car, but there's tons of data from insurance
reports [showing] that 24-year-olds are costing them more than
So why is that? "It must be behavior and impulse control," he
said. "Whatever these changes are, the top 10 bad things that happen
to teens involve emotion and behavior."
Physically, Giedd said, the teen years and early 20s represent
an incredibly healthy time of life, in terms of cancer, heart disease
and other serious illnesses. But with accidents as the leading
cause of death in adolescents, and suicide following close behind, "this
isn't a great time emotionally and psychologically. This is the
great paradox of adolescence: right at the time you should be on
the top of your game, you're not."
The next step in Giedd's research, he said, is to learn more about
what influences brain growth, for good or bad. "Ultimately, we
want to use these findings to treat illness and enhance development."
One of the things scientists have come to understand, though,
is that parents do have something to do with their children's brain
"From imaging studies, one of the things that seems intriguing
is this notion of modeling...that the brain is pretty adept at
learning by example," he said. "As parents, we teach a lot when
we don't even know we're teaching, just by showing how we treat
our spouses, how we treat other people, what we talk about in the
car on the way home...things that a parent says in the car can
stick with them for years. They're listening even though it may
appear they're not."
What can we do to change our kids? "Well, start with yourself
in terms of what you show by example," Giedd concluded.
To borrow an audiotape of this lecture, call (301) 443-4533.