Brain science shows that teen annoyance is part of normal development

Brain science shows that teen annoyance is part of normal development

Since many mothers of young children are celebrated with homemade cards and sticky kisses for Mother’s Day, moms of teenagers may wonder why their children seem irritated by their presence.

“My daughter is the best in the world. I think most of the things I do annoy her,” says Katherine Henderson, a clinical psychologist in Ottawa.

She and other experts say that if this is happening in your home, it is normal and possibly even a sign of a healthy mother-child relationship. The science of adolescent brain development also explains this.

Although it has long been known that a teenager’s brain is wired differently than that of a child or an adult, a landmark study published last month charts lifelong brain development and shows milestones. neurodevelopmental for the teenage years.

“It is quite unknown, quantitatively, how large the human brain is and how it generally varies in the population,” says Jakob Seidlitz, a postdoctoral fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, who is a collaborator-author of the study in the journal Nature.

Drawing on more than 120,000 MRI scans and drawn from more than 100 studies and representing more than 100,000 people from before birth to 100 years of age, the researchers mapped the development of the human brain over the course of life.

The study showed that the teenage years are a unique time in brain development, as well as a unique time in physical, social and emotional development. In the same way that a child’s weight, height and head circumference can be mapped across ages, now the architecture of the brain can be as well.

The brain begins to grow in the uterus, is about half its full size at birth, and reaches its maximum size in the middle of puberty. After this it gradually decreases in size for the rest of the lifespan.

As the brain grows, different structures and areas mature at different rates. The study showed that subcortical or deep gray matter, a region with many roles including emotional control, peaks in size in mid-teens. Meanwhile, the amount of gray matter in the brain peaks earlier in the early school years and decreases with adolescence as the amount of white matter, or connections between brain cells, continues to increase until it peaks later. 28 years.

These brain development models also help explain how teens respond to the core tasks of adolescence. Teens move from more concrete to abstract thinking and learn to solve problems in more complex ways. They are separating from their parents and forming their own identity.

“Teens have a hard time modulating emotions,” says Dr. Alene Toulany, adolescent medicine pediatrician at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

An emotional cue that “rings like a bell for an adult, rings like a gong for a teenager … it’s loud and intense. That’s partly why they have a large, loud reaction,” Toulany says. “They aren’t trying to be bothered. They just are,” she says.

“What often seems very unpredictable and intense to a parent is actually quite predictable,” says Toulany. “I expect a conflict between teenagers and their parents.”

“The fact that parents become less of a nuisance to their children over time is a beautiful description of brain development,” he notes.

The challenge for parents, Henderson says, is to recognize that behaviors mean the child needs more space to take risks, try new things, and develop their individuality.

“It’s not them who want to disconnect,” Henderson says, though on the surface it might seem that way. “It may be more difficult for parents to stay in that deep unconditional love and in that place in tune, but that’s what teens need,” she says.

“If children show annoyance with their parents, it’s usually because they feel safe to express themselves,” Henderson says.

If parents manage to hold out through adolescence while the brain is maturing, Henderson adds, between the ages of 20 and 30 their values ​​and behaviors “usually seem very similar to their parents, even though they may not have been so during that time. adolescence”.

One of the findings of the brain mapping study is that for most teens, their brains will continue to mature predictably as they enter adulthood.

Henderson’s advice for parents? “Hold on there … and wear noise-canceling headphones. A raised eye is not a sign of disrespect. I actually think it demonstrates a confidence in the relationship, being able to disagree,” says Henderson. .


Michelle Ward is a pediatrician, associate professor and journalist in Ottawa. This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 7, 2022

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