The amazing, turbulent, teenage brain

12 - 14 years
Brain illustration

The early teenage years are an extraordinary time of development for your child. Your teen’s brain is experiencing one of its biggest periods of growth and they are maturing both cognitively and emotionally. This means you are likely to see changes in your teen’s way of thinking, emotions and behaviour.

What happens in the early teen brain

Here’s a quick guide to what’s happening in your teen’s brain – and how you can support their learning and development through this amazing (and sometimes turbulent) time.


During the adolescent years, your child’s brain is undergoing a period of remodelling. The neural connections no longer needed are being pruned, and the connections that are activated most frequently are preserved and strengthened. It’s a case of “use it or lose it”.

Impulsive thinking

As their brains are still developing, adolescents will often make decisions in the amygdala – the part of the brain connected to impulses, emotions and aggression. This is why your teen’s behaviour might sometimes seem more erratic or emotional in their adolescent years.

How you can support your teen

Positive activities

The activities your teen spends time doing during adolescence shapes how their brain is structured into adulthood. Try to encourage your teen to spend time engaging in constructive activities which will support their brain development – such as learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, or taking up a new sport or exercising.

Good decision-making

You can support the development of your teen’s decision-making skills by talking about making good choices. Talk about how actions have consequences, both now and into the future. Encourage your teen to take time to think things through before making decisions – identifying the options and weighing up the potential rewards against the negative consequences. Praising your teen when they make good decisions will help to reinforce these skills.

Healthy risks

The developing adolescent brain seeks out new experiences and sensations. This makes teenagers more likely to take risks or engage in high-risk activities. Risk-taking can be positive – it can lead to new experiences, the discovery of previously unknown capabilities, and the opportunity to learn from mistakes. But risk-taking can also be unhealthy, like drug taking or stealing. You can help your teen avoid unhealthy risk-taking by encouraging them to take healthy risks, such as trying a new sport, participating in a drama production, traveling or entering competitions.

Managing emotions

Adolescence is also a time of emotional development and turmoil. Your teen’s brain is still learning how to control and express emotions appropriately. Encourage your teen to find positive ways to express their feelings, such as writing in a journal, drawing or playing sport. Stress relieving techniques such as breathing exercises and mediation can also help your teen better manage their emotions.

Getting enough sleep

Sleep is essential to healthy brain development so your teen needs to get lots of sleep. Try to encourage your teen to develop a regular sleeping routine – going to bed and waking up at regular times during the weekdays, and having time to ‘wind down’ before bed,  away from screens. Keep your teen’s room dark at night to encourage sleep, and let them get some extra sleep on weekends if possible.

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Last modified
20 April 2020