Let’s take a look at the teenage brain. New research shows that it’s the most powerful computer on the planet, and if you’re between the ages of 13 and 19, you’re programming it every second. Here are the details, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report: We’ll start with the basics: Scientists know that from birth to age 12, the brain’s a turbocharged learning machine. It builds more connections – called neurons - than an adult brain needs. Then, it prunes the extra neurons away and strengthens the wiring between the ones that remain.
So, what stays and what goes? Francis Jenson, a neurologist at Children's Hospital in Boston and an expert on brain development, says that neurons are just like muscles - if you don’t use them, you lose them. That’s why it’s important for teens to realize that how they spend their time today will have a dramatic affect on the skills they have as an adult. In other words, just because you can breeze through Geometry without cracking a book now, doesn’t mean you’ll keep those skills if you spend all your spare time playing “Grand Theft Auto.” Like any turbocharged machine, the teen brain needs maintenance. Wilkie Wilson is the co-director of a new program at Duke University designed to educate teenagers about their brains. He says there are three things every teen should do to keep their grey matter in top form:
- Get plenty of sleep because that’s when the brain organizes memories.
- The teen brain runs on healthy fuel, so eat a consistent diet of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
- Stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Neuroscientists have found that addiction uses the same molecular pathways that learning does. So smoking, drinking, and drug use actually become part of how your brain’s wired. Real world research proves the point. In one study, people who started drinking or using drugs before age 15 were more likely to fail in school, be convicted of a crime, or have substance abuse problems as an adult.
Look, you’ve only got one brain, kids. Don’t mess it up.