Understanding Your Teenager – It Is All In Their Head

It was thought provoking to listen to adults at a class reunion reminisce of teenage years. As a psychologist, listening is what I do and I found some research that may shed light on your stories as teenagers.

It prompted me to ponder my past and the experiences I hear from others. Listening to class reunion talk about academy experiences and the ability of all of you to share and address any detrimental issues. Often you discussed an incident, which you remember and others in your class did not.

The anxiety and fearfulness of teenagers is documented in psychological research.

The brain circuit for processing fear – the amygdala – develops ahead of the prefrontal cortex.  The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain representing reasoning and executive control.  The prefrontal cortex matures around age 25.  Teenagers face social and emotional challenges, separation from their parents, being accepted by a peer group and figuring out their talents and skills.  Yet, the brain area for processing fear is the amygdala.  The amygdala develops ahead of the prefrontal cortex.  As a result adolescents brains are wired to capacity for fear and anxiety (amygdala) prior to developing rational reasoning (prefrontal lobe). Therefore, teenagers have capacity for anxiety and yet are risk takers.  Most adolescents healthy develop a balance as they mature in their twenties. Yet, some teenagers recollect those moments from our childhood adolescent.

The rationale is that we as adults may remember an incident in our adolescent that still causes concern as adults.  As adults we know how to control our anxiety and keep it in check, however teenage incident can remain with us and project an incident to stay with us.  It is a normal emotional response.

Friedman, a psychiatrist at Cornell traced anxiety disorders originating in their teenage years.  The typical respondents report an uneventful childhood, rudely interrupted by adolescent anxiety.

As healthy adults we are able to realize we are safe and are able to re-evaluate them.