The Teen Brain

October 20, 2015

The Teen Brain

By Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

Do you ever wonder why your tween or teen acts so crazy? Teens, do you ever wonder why you feel like your emotions are all over the place?

Part of these “strange” behaviors that seem to emerge around the time of puberty are, in part, due to part of the “thinking” area of the brain not being developed yet.   One of the thinking parts of the brain often referred to as the CEO of the brain is scientifically called the prefrontal cortex and it performs many important duties. It The prefrontal cortex is in charge of a large number of functions including controlling emotions, planning ahead, organizing multiple tasks, controlling impulses, practicing self-control, having insight, empathizing with others, strategizing and problem solving, and making sound judgments.

This is why it may be difficult for teens to think through choices and make a decision that is in their long-term best interest. It may feel like a teen’s emotions are calm and collected one minute and deeply perturbed the next minute. It also explains why teens might make a poor choice in an emotionally charged situation like peer acceptance. They may make a risky choice in order to fit in that they wouldn’t normally make if they weren’t emotionally motivated.

Understanding that this part of the brain is still “under construction” helps makes sense of teen unruliness and thus builds compassion for our teens. It also helps build self-compassion for teens who feel ashamed of their behaviors or are trying to understand some of their actions and feelings. We can let go of some of the moral judgment we put on our teens and understand that some of their actions are based on where their brain is developmentally. In the same way that we have compassion on toddlers when they are crying because their peanut butter sandwich wasn’t cut the right way, we can extend this compassion to our teens.

May you go out and love your teen or your teen-self better, acknowledging that the teen brain is still a work in progress.

If you want to learn and understand more about the teen brain I recommend reading Brainstorm by Dan Siegel.

Photo from

Photo from


Greenspan, L., & Deardorff, J. (2014). The new puberty: How to navigate early development in today’s girls. New York: New York: Rodale.

Seigel, D. (2014). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. New York: Penguin Putnam


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