Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Being a teen can be an amazing time of discovery, learning, and friendship, but it’s also a time of rapid change, and emotional highs and lows where things can feel really ‘tough’. So, what’s going on in our brains and bodies that makes us feel this way? Why is being a teen so hard? We’re often told that the most important years of brain development are between 0-5, although recent research has found adolescent development to be equally important. During childhood, our brains continually grow, generating grey matter until they reach their maximum size, which for girls is around age 12 and boys around age 14. But even after this, the the brain works to become more efficient by cutting away unused grey matter that isn’t ‘exercised’ by experience, and at the same time increasing myelin which is fatty tissue that insulates brain pathways. Puberty begins in the hypothalamus, where a protein called kisspeptin is produced, triggering the pituitary gland to unleash the hormones testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. These activate the ovaries and testes, but also cause you to seek emotionally charged experiences - whether it’s a movie to make you sob, or driving 180 km/h down the freeway. It causes your response to emotionally loaded images or sounds to be more intense, which is why listening to One Direction may produce large bouts of the feels. The area of the brain responsible for planning ahead and assessing risk is still immature in teenagers. Which is why teens are more likely to participate in high risk behaviour like unprotected sex and drinking and driving. Interestingly, in a simulated driving experience, adults and teens took the same amount of driving risks while alone; however, when surrounded by an audience of friends, teens took significantly more risks while adults were unaffected. What’s the benefit of this behaviour? Peer acceptance. In a study where teens were asked to rank music clips with and without knowing what their peers picked, their choices changed. Unlike small children and adults, feeling socially isolated as a teen creates feelings of intense unworthiness. This along with our biology can contribute to teens prioritizing friends over even family. As social animals, stepping outside the safety of our family creates genetically diverse populations, diminishing the likliness of inbreeding. In fact, teens have heightened social abilities like processing and evaluating facial expressions better than other age groups, allowing teens to be extremely cognisant of friends joy, sadness, or stress. Speaking of stress, the hormone released in stressful situations to help soothe the brain cells of children and adults has the opposite impact on teens, causing an increase in anxiety. Pair that with a change in circadian rhythms making you to want to wake three to four hours later than adults, it’s no wonder some people describe teens as emotionally ‘moody’. On the other hand, teens are very physically healthy. The immune system is highly functioning, teens have increased tolerance to temperature changes and a high resistance to cancer. But despite physical fitness, records show that death rates increase by 200-300% after childhood due to motor vehicle accidents, homicide and suicide. Scientists believe that the many changes in white matter, grey matter, and connections in the brain may be to blame, with an increased risk of errors during this time. But with a greater number of synaptic connections, and increased plasticity, the teenage brain is primed to learn quickly and memorize content fast. Unlike an older brain, rooted in what it knows, teens can respond easily to their environment and make incredible strides in communication and socialization. Not to mention being passionate is incredibly valuable and taking risks is often what is needed to make changes in your life and the lives of others - being a teen can be tough, but it can also be amazing. If you want to know why teens are the biggest super fans and become obsessed with their favourite bands or shows, check out our latest AsapTHOUGHT on the Science of Fandom. Links in the description! And subscribe for more weekly science videos.