Arthur Coaching: The Brain is to Blame

shutterstock_195037466A common problem that parents/teachers/employers and young people experience is a gap in understanding. Adults use phrases like: “we speak different languages” or “we’re like ships that pass in the night” to describe the communication between them. Often, both adult and young person are experiencing the same sort of frustration and feelings.

In the last 30 years, behavioural scientists have reported that adolescents undergo massive changes in cognitive and emotional capacities which continue into early adulthood, well beyond teenage years. Brain scientists – neuroscientists – have more recently discovered similar changes in the brain.

There are valid explanations for young people’s unique attitudes and thinking. From neuroscience, we have learned that the prefrontal cortex of the adolescent brain is not yet operational until the person’s mid-twenties. This part of the brain is responsible for rational thought, planning, decision-making, impulse-control and emotional control – so maybe it’s understandable that young people indulge in risk-taking and what we might consider to be unreasonable behaviour.

Teens and adults use different parts of their brains to process reading facial expressions and feelings. Teens not only misread the feelings on an adult’s face, they also react strongly from an area deep inside the brain: the amygdala, a small almond shaped area that guides instinct or gut reactions. When teenagers get older and move into adulthood, the centre of activity shifts more toward the frontal cortex.

Meanwhile, adults rely on the frontal cortex, which governs reason and planning. The frontal cortex gives adults the ability to distinguish a subtlety of expression, to use reason (to rationalise), organise their thinking, plan, control their impulses and reactions. The frontal cortex has been described as the ‘conductor of the orchestra’. If you imagine a bunch of musicians doing their own thing, without co-ordination, order, planning or organisation, that might be like a young person’s brain. Emotions, hormones, thoughts, feelings and reactions are all firing off, without the controlling or management influence of the frontal cortex. Reactions, rather than rational thought, come from the amygdala, leading to impulsivenes or risk-taking behaviour.

Maybe that explains why the teen to young adult years seem so emotionally turbulent.

Now, how can we use this new knowledge to understand and to communicate better with young people?

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.

Now, how can we use this new knowledge to understand and to communicate better with young people?