Teen Brain Development | Newport Academy (2022)

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The teen brain is under construction. Even when physical growth appears complete, teen brain development isn’t finished. In fact, the adolescent brain doesn’t fully mature until a young person reaches their mid-twenties. Therefore, brain-mapping technologies reveal that the average teenager’s brain looks slightly different from the average adult’s brain.

What You Need to Know About Teen Brain Development

Since teenage brains aren’t fully developed, some areas aren’t completely online. Most important, these areas are in the prefrontal cortex, which controls reasoning and teen emotionand self-regulation. As a result, teens can be more impulsive and moody. And because brain development and decision-making are closely related, adolescents aren’t as good at planning ahead and making careful decisions.

To understand further, let’s look at how the teen brain develops and the different areas of the brain. In addition, we’ll examine teen brain vs. adult brain functioning.

The Basic Architecture of the Brain

The brain has three main parts:

  • Cerebrum, made up of an outer layer (cerebral cortex, referred to as “gray matter”) and inner layer (cerebral medulla, referred to as “white matter”). In general, the left hemisphere performs mathematical, analytical, and verbal functions. Hence, the right hemisphere processes visual, spatial, and musical information.
  • Cerebellum, a small structure at the rear of the brain that will play a role in coordinating movement and speech articulation
  • Brainstem, which connects the brain and spinal cord, and regulates breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Brain development begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Therefore, the simplest neural connections and skills form first. Neural connections are the communications between different areas of the brain.

In the first few years of life,more than 1 millionnew neural connections form every second. Subsequently, more complex circuits and skills develop. But the early stages of construction provide either a weak or strong foundation for future brain development.

Teen Brain Development | Newport Academy (1)

The Six Stages of Central Nervous System Development

The development of the brain and central nervous system (CNS) occurs during six major stages. However, the stages may overlap.

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The six stages of CNS maturation are

  1. Dorsal Induction
  2. Ventral Induction
  3. Proliferation
  4. Migration
  5. Organization
  6. Myelination.

Fetal Brain Development: The First Four Stages

Let’s look more closely at the first four stages of brain growth. These stages occur during gestation.

Dorsalinductiontakes place in the first 18 to 26 days of gestation (pregnancy). A “neural tube” develops in the embryo, which will eventually become the brain and spinal cord.

Ventral induction takes place between week four and week 10 of gestation. In this phase, the three distinct brain structures are formed (cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem).

Proliferationis a two-phase process in which the embryo produces cells that will develop into nerve cells. Called glioblasts and neuroblasts, these cells divide and multiply to create the number of nerve cells a person will have for life—approximately 100 billion. In addition, nerve calls are called neurons.

Migrationbegins at six to eight weeks of gestation and continues through the eighth month of pregnancy. In this stage, nerve cells move from the site of production to their final position somewhere in the CNS. For example, some cells will move to the cerebrum and some to the cerebellum. Moreover, some neurons form the corpus callosum. This is a bridge that connects the two cerebral hemispheres.

The Stages of Teen Brain Development and Beyond

The last two stages of brain development occur after gestation. In fact, some types of brain changes continue through adulthood.

Organizationbegins at six months of gestation and continues well after birth. In this stage, neurons fully develop. Thus, each neuron includes

(Video) Teen Brain Development

  • A cell body
  • An axon—a nerve fiber thatsendssignals from the cell body to other neurons
  • Dendrites—hundreds of short branches thatreceivesignals from other neurons.

The communication between axons and dendrites are called synapses. And new synapses can continue to form throughout a person’s life. Therefore, teen brain development includes the formation of new synapses.

Myelinationbegins at six months of gestation and continues into adulthood. Hence, in this stage, the glial cells produce myelin. Myelin is a fatty covering that helps neural connections occur more efficiently.

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The Functions of the Cerebral Cortex

The cerebral cortex has six layers. Moreover, it is divided into lobes. Hence, these lobes are referred to by the names of the skull bones that cover them: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. In addition, the limbic lobe incorporates parts of three of the other lobes (frontal, temporal, and parietal).

Each lobe is linked with various functions:

Frontal lobe (behind the forehead)— reasoning and abstract thinking, aggression, sexual behavior, smell, voluntary movement and articulation of speech

Parietal lobe (upper right and left sides of the head)—sensory awareness (including taste), language, abstract reasoning (math), body awareness

Temporal lobe (right and left side of the head, above and behind the ears)—emotions, compulsions, sexual behavior, interpretation of language, hearing, memory

Occipital lobe (the back of the head)—processing visual stimuli.

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The Prefrontal Cortex and Teen Brain Development

The brain develops in a back-to-front pattern. Hence, prefrontal cortex development is the last part of the brain maturation process.As a result, teen brain development is not yet complete.

Lack of frontal lobe maturity catalyzes a variety of teen behaviors. That’s because the prefrontal cortex is involved with a wide range of functions, known as executive functions. These include the following:

  • Complex decision-making
  • Planning skills
  • Impulse control
  • Emotional reactions
  • Focusing attention
  • Prioritizing competing information received all at once
  • The ability to ignore external distractions.

Therefore, children and teenagers are unable to access certain skills and abilities until later in the frontal lobe development process.Consequently, lack of executive functions can result in teen risky behavior. And lack of emotional self-regulation skills can affect teen mental health. Moreover, teens are also dealing with hormones as a result of puberty.

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The Role of the Amygdala in Teen Brain Development and Mental Health

The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobe of the cerebrum. It is responsible for immediate or “gut” reactions, including fear and aggressive behavior.Over the course of adolescence, the prefrontal cortex takes over greater control of the limbic system. Hence, we learn to think before we act. But before the prefrontal cortex matures, the amygdala is in charge.

Research shows that the amygdala plays an outsize role in teen behavior and mental health. For example, in one study, teens with a larger amygdala, relative to their total brain size, showed more aggressive behavior. Furthermore, in anotherstudy, teens with depression showed increased activity in the amygdala. This research might explain why teenagers’ feelings of aggression, fear, and depression may be more intense than those of adults.

One group of researchers studied how adolescents perceive emotion as compared to adults. The scientists looked at the brains of 18 children between the ages of 10 and 18. Next, they compared them to 16 adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both groups were shown pictures of adult faces and asked to identify the emotion on the faces.

Subsequently, the adults correctly identified the expression as fear. And the teens used works like “shocked,” “surprised,” and “angry” to describe the pictures. But even more interesting, the teens and adults used different parts of their brains to process what they were feeling. The adults showed activity in the frontal cortex, which governs reason and planning. But the teens mostly used the amygdala.

Hardwired for Risk-Taking

Some researchers believe that there is an evolutionary purpose to the rate of teenagers’ brain development. Hence, they theorize that the brain is wired for increased risk-taking and emotional reactivity during adolescence. Thus, these traits support teens to become more independent and to be alert to dangers in their environment as they strike out on their own.

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However, in today’s world, teens don’t have to fend for themselves in the wild. Therefore, their hardwiring sometimes leads to self-destructive risk-taking, such as

  • Fighting or bullying
  • Unsafe sexual behavior
  • Alcohol, substance, and tobacco use
  • Unsafe driving
  • Poor self-care.

Furthermore, because teen brain development is still in progress, substance use is more dangerous for them. New experiences that are pleasurable can very quickly become habits as a result of chemical reactions in the brain. Consequently, a teen can become addicted to alcohol or drugs more easily than an adult.

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How Genes and Environment Impact Children and Teen Brain Development

Both nature and nurture influence brain development. Hence, genetics plays a role. However, events and circumstances during infancy and childhood also have a powerful impact.

For example, frequent and intense periods of stress weaken the architecture of the developing brain. For example, such stress might include physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, and exposure to violence. Therefore, the development of neural connections is impaired.

As a result, this can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.But positive, caring relationshipswith adults early in life can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of stress.

In summary, teen brain development is at the root of many typical adolescent behaviors. Therefore, understanding this development can help parents cultivate patience and compassion.

Moreover, teens need healthy ways to cope with the intense emotions catalyzed by the overactive amygdala. For example, outdoor adventures, artistic expression, making music, and performing on stage are all healthy challenges that support stress resilience and teen mental health. And they stimulate the growing teenage brain in positive ways.

Images courtesy of unsplash

(Video) Brain changes during adolescence | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy


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Harvard University Center on the Developing Child


Is the teenage brain fully developed? ›

Though the brain may be done growing in size, it does not finish developing and maturing until the mid- to late 20s. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature.

What percent of the teenage brain is developed? ›

Studies have, in fact, shown that the adolescent brain is only about 80 percent developed, findings that Jensen says make it clear that teenagers are not just “young adults with fewer miles.”

At what age does 90% of the adolescent brain develop? ›

Teenage brain development: the basics

By the time they're six, their brains are already about 90-95% of adult size.

Why is the teenage brain so hard to understand? ›

Advanced brain imaging has revealed that the teenage brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt and respond to its environment. The brain does not grow by getting substantially larger during the teenage years but rather through increased connectivity between brain regions.

What time does a teenagers brain start to fully work? ›

The rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until age 25 or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational part.

At what age is brain fully developed? ›

The fact that brain development is not complete until near the age of 25 years refers specifically to the development of the prefrontal cortex.

Is the brain fully developed at 30? ›

Blakemore said brain scans show the prefrontal cortex continues to change shape as people reach their 30s and up to their late 40s. She said the region begins to change in early childhood and then is reorganized in late adolescence but continues to change after that.

Does the brain stop developing at 25? ›

Neuroscientists are confirming what car rental places already figured out — the brain doesn't fully mature until age 25. Up until this age, the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that helps curb impulsive behavior — is not yet fully developed.

What are the 7 stages of brain development? ›

There are 7 stages of brain development:
  • Cell Birth.
  • Cell Migration.
  • Cell Differentiation.
  • Cell Maturation.
  • Synaptogenesis.
  • Cell death and synaptic pruning.
  • Myelogenesis.

What are the 5 stages of brain development? ›

Special feature: The five ages of the brain
  • Gestation: Setting the stage.
  • Childhood: Soak it up.
  • Adolescence: Wired, and rewiring. Advertisement.
  • Adulthood: The slippery slope.
  • Old age: Down but not out.
1 Apr 2009

What age is the brain the most active? ›

Scientists have long known that our ability to think quickly and recall information, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline.

How long can the teenage brain focus without a break? ›

10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes. 12 years old: 24 to 36 minutes. 14 years old: 28 to 42 minutes. 16 years old: 32 to 48 minutes.

What age does your brain absorb the most information? ›

From birth to (approximately) age six, your child's brain works in a very different way than an adult's does. At this age, her mind is like a sponge, soaking up huge amounts of information from her environment. She is absorbing everything around her, effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately.

Why are teenagers so confused? ›

If teenagers seem confused to you, it is mainly because they have reached a point in their life when they need to define who they are, what they think, what they like or hate, what their beliefs are and what they wants to be later on in life. These thoughts are tough.

What time of day is your brain sharpest? ›

Although new discoveries prove that timing may not be everything, it is important if you want to create and perform at your best consistently. That said, science has indicated that learning is most effective between 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm, when the brain is in an acquisition mode.

What is the best time to wake up for a teenager? ›

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the sleep requirement for teenagers is between 8-10 hours per night. That indicates that the earliest healthy wake-up time for teens should not be before 7 a.m.

What time should a teenager go to bed? ›

For teenagers, Kelley says that, generally speaking, 13- to 16-year-olds should be in bed by 11.30pm. However, our school system needs a radical overhaul to work with teenagers' biological clocks. “If you're 13 to 15 you should be in school at 10am, so that means you're waking up at 8am.

Does brain develop after 18? ›

It grows in overall size, modifies the number of cells contained within, and transforms the degree of connectivity. The changes don't stop once you turn 18. In fact, scientists now think your brain continues maturing and fine-tuning itself well into your 20s.

Is maturity based on age? ›

Maturity is not a matter of age, but instead, of how you choose to respond and react to various life situations. It is essentially a level of mental development or wisdom that has a bearing on all areas of an individual's life, right from their conduct to their relationship with others.

Can you become smarter after 25? ›

The short answer is - Yes. Intelligence can be increased at almost any age. While it can be harder to learn a new language after adolescence, it is never impossible. And learning some words in another language is one very good way to improve mental ability and acuity, at any age.

At what age do females mature mentally? ›

Studies say men reach emotional maturity around 43, while 32 years of age is where most women mature.

Is your brain still developing at 27? ›

Scientists explained our brains don't reach adulthood until our 30s at a new meeting on brain development. Our brains are constantly developing over a span of three decades.

Can you rewire your brain after 25? ›

Once we reach adulthood at around 25 our brain stops naturally forming new neural pathways and our habits, biases and attitudes become more set in stone and much harder to change. Nevertheless, it isn't impossible to train our brains to changing later in life and throughout adulthood.

At what age does the mind decline? ›

“Cognitive decline may begin after midlife, but most often occurs at higher ages (70 or higher).” (Aartsen, et al., 2002) “… relatively little decline in performance occurs until people are about 50 years old.” (Albert & Heaton, 1988).

What age does your brain start to decline? ›

In the early years of life, the brain forms more than a million new neural connections every second. By the age of 6, the size of the brain increases to about 90% of its volume in adulthood. Then, in our 30s and 40s, the brain starts to shrink, with the shrinkage rate increasing even more by age 60.

What age does the brain reach 95% development? ›

By age six years, the brain reaches approximately 95 percent of its adult volume.

What are the 8 signs of brain development? ›

8 Signs of Brain Development
  • Good memory. Recalling people, places, events, and details forms an integral part of a person's cognitive development. ...
  • Sharp vision. ...
  • Regulated behavior. ...
  • Developed language skills. ...
  • Growing comprehension. ...
  • Sustained focus. ...
  • Improved problem-solving. ...
  • Expanding vocabulary.
29 Oct 2018

What is the most important stage of brain development? ›

During the first five years, a child's brain is at its most flexible, making this a critical period for learning and growth. Science tells us that children who face adversity in the first years of life, often related to living in poverty, are more at risk for experiencing lifelong effects from toxic stress.

What is the last thing to develop in the brain? ›

The frontal lobes, home to key components of the neural circuitry underlying “executive functions” such as planning, working memory, and impulse control, are among the last areas of the brain to mature; they may not be fully developed until halfway through the third decade of life [2].

How can we improve a child's brain development? ›

Here are ideas to encourage brain development:
  1. Play. Play is a wonderful way to help a baby or toddler's brain develop. Play might be a game, talking or singing to actively engage your child's brain. ...
  2. Comfort. Babies can feel stress. ...
  3. Read. Reading is one of the best ways to promote a child's brain development.

What part of brain develops first? ›

Although the brainstem is the first part of the brain to develop, the higher parts are evolving simultaneously but at different rates. The cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that controls thought, feeling, language and the senses – is the last to mature and begins functioning shortly before a baby is born.

What habits cause brain damage? ›

10 Habits That Can Hurt Your Brain
  • Habit #1: Not Sleeping Enough. ...
  • Habit #2: Smoking. ...
  • Habit #3: Spending Too Much Time Alone. ...
  • Habit #4: Being Too Stationary. ...
  • Habit #5: Overeating. ...
  • Habit #6: Eating Too Much Junk Food. ...
  • Habit #7: Blasting Your Headphones. ...
  • Habit #8: Spending Too Much Time in the Dark.

What age has the best memory? ›

Our ability to remember new information peaks in our 20s, and then starts to decline noticeably from our 50s or 60s.

At what age is intelligence set? ›

The average child's IQ is not stable until around four years of age. It may be much later in children who were born early or who have significant health issues.

What time does the teenage brain stop working? ›

Simply put, a teenager's brain is not ready to learn at 6 a.m. That's why it is typical for teenagers to sleep late on weekends.

Does ADHD cause short attention span? ›

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder that typically begins in childhood and is characterized by a short attention span (inattention), an inability to be calm and stay still (hyperactivity), and poor impulse control (impulsivity).

How much time can the mind stay 100% focus? ›

studies dating from the 1990s suggest that due to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.

What activity uses the most brain power? ›

Learning an instrument scooped the top spot, as findings discovered that doing so engages nearly every area of the brain at once. In fact, playing music uses both parts of the brain's "hemispheres whilst increasing activity within the corpus callosum (the bridge)".

How do you train your brain to absorb more information? ›

What you can do to help make memories stick
  1. Get a good night's sleep. Decades of research support the fact that sleep is a critical time when memories consolidate and get stored. ...
  2. Exercise regularly. What is exercise not good for? ...
  3. Repeat or re-learn the information later. ...
  4. Test yourself.
13 Jun 2018

What is the most problem of teenager? ›

The common teenage problems that teenagers face today are usually related to: Self-Esteem and Body Image. Stress. Bullying.

Why is my 14 year old daughter so forgetful? ›

There are many reasons kids are forgetful, including stress and lack of sleep. Being hungry can also have a big impact. But sometimes when kids have trouble remembering information, they may be struggling with a skill called working memory.

Why am I becoming forgetful as a teenager? ›

As the brain continues to grow throughout adolescence, this development will affect functionality in different parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. Focus, planning, memory, and the control of social behaviors can become hit or miss due to the growth happening in the brain.

› the-adolescent-brain-what... ›

Every experience will change your brain. When you do something, the corresponding neurons will fire up and that part of the brain will strengthen. The skills yo...
Like their bodies, different children's brains develop at different speeds. “The important concept here is that the adolescent brain is still developing and...

Are teenage brains really different from adults? ›

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. There is a biological explanation for this difference. Studies have shown that brains continue to mature and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and well into early adulthood.

How developed is a 16 year old brain? ›

By age 16, most teens are developing the ability to think abstractly, deal with several concepts at the same time, and imagine the future consequences of their actions. This type of thinking in a logical sequence continues to develop into adulthood.

Why teenage years are the hardest? ›

One of the reasons many of us find it so hard is because it is a time of rapid physical development and deep emotional changes. These are exciting, but can also be confusing and uncomfortable for child and parent alike.

Are teenagers or adults happier? ›

In the United States, we tend to get happier as we age. Happiness takes a dip in adolescence, and on average we are happier at 25 than we are at 18 [source: United Press International].

What age does your brain absorb the most information? ›

From birth to (approximately) age six, your child's brain works in a very different way than an adult's does. At this age, her mind is like a sponge, soaking up huge amounts of information from her environment. She is absorbing everything around her, effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately.

Is 17 years old still a child? ›

Legally, the term child may refer to anyone below the age of majority or some other age limit. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as, "A human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

How developed is a 17 year old brain? ›

17-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

But even though many 17-year-olds think they are adults, their brains still have not yet fully developed. So while they may have skills to regulate their impulses, they also may behave recklessly at times.

Are 16 year olds fully developed? ›

The rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until age 25 or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational part.

› adolescent-brain-develop... ›

Adolescent Brain Development

https://www.kidshealth.org.nz › adolescent-brain-develop...
https://www.kidshealth.org.nz › adolescent-brain-develop...
The brain develops very rapidly in the first 3 to 5 years of life, and all the structure and building blocks are present by the age of 9. Find out when the diff...
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1. The Teenage Brain Explained
2. Brain Development in Teenagers
3. Use It or Lose It: The Adolescent Brain
(ExpandED Schools)
4. The Workings of the Adolescent Brain
5. The Adolescent Brain: Understanding Behaviour
(Anna Freud NCCF)
6. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain

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