The Adolescent Brain as a “Work in Progress”, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

For many years, scientists and neurologists have supported the belief that most of the development of the human brain occurs during early childhood and then during the teen years settles into a relatively stable state without much alteration. However, new research has revealed that the human brain continues to develop well into the adolescent years and beyond, a process called by some as a “work in progress.” This revelation about the development of the human brain in adolescents holds the power to greatly alter how nurses and pediatricians currently understand the adolescent/teen years in relation to thinking patterns, cognitive abilities, maturation, and emotional behavior.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the growth of the adolescent brain can be compared to the physical body itself which depending upon the individual grows at different speeds. As Dr. Andrew Garner of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee points out, “the important concept here is that the adolescent brain is still developing and not yet fully mature. Not only that, but brain scans show that parts of the brain don’t grow the same” (What’s Going On in the Teenage Brain? 2012), meaning that brain development and maturation differs from one individual to another and that the speed at which the brain develops varies greatly. Dr. Garner adds that “Scans of normal kids have revealed that different parts of the brain mature at different rates,” such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which recent studies have shown does not fully mature until the age of twenty-four, and the amygdala that “sits deep in the brain and which appears to be fully mature” sometime around the age of sixteen. Interestingly, Dr. Garner notes that what he refers to as a “mismatch” or differences in brain growth and maturity might help to explain the differences in adolescent behavior (What’s Going On in the Teenage Brain? 2012).

An important medical tool that has opened the proverbial door to understanding the growth and maturity of the human brain is known as a brain scan via either a CAT scan (computerized axial tomography) or a PET scan (positron emission tomography). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these types of scans are now being utilized by scientists and researchers to determine “the causes of mental illness” and for “studying the development of the brain from birth to adulthood.” In addition, brain scans allow scientists and researchers to “track the growth of the brain and to investigate the connections between brain function, development, and behavior” (The Teen Brain, 2011).

One specific area related to brain growth and development is known as myelinization or the myelination process which makes it possible for brain cells to communicate with each other via fibers that “connect nerve cells wrapped in a protein which greatly increases the speed with which they can transmit impulses from cell to cell” (The Teen Brain, 2011). Along with helping to develop intellectual capabilities in the adolescent, these protein-wrapped nerve cell bundles have also been shown to affect emotional growth and behavior. Since the brain motivates or causes all forms of behavior, changes in the nerve cell bundles demonstrates “how different parts of the brain are activated in response to experience” and certain emotional responses and reactions occur, especially in the brain of a teenager (The Teen Brain, 2011). Thus, for the pediatric nurse practitioner, understanding how and why the brain develops and matures as it does will surely help in understanding teen behavior and which methods of intervention are most appropriate for each individual.

References

The teen brain: Still under construction. (2011). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/complete-index.shtml

What’s going on in the teenage brain? (2012). American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://www.aap.org/en-us/search/pages/results.aspx?k=brain&start1=21

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