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Your Teen

Mental Health Clues Found in Teen Brain Scans

1:30

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ups and downs in your teenager’s moods- there’s a very good reason; their brain is still developing. Brain scans from a research team at the University of Cambridge identified the areas of the brain that change the most during the teen years. It’s no surprise that areas associated with complex thought and decision-making are the ones going through a growth spurt during this time.

The scientists also discovered a link between teenage brain development and mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The team from Cambridge's department of psychiatry scanned the brains of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24.

They found that basic functions such as vision, hearing and movement were fully developed by adolescence. However, complex thinking processes and decision-making were still in a growth stage.

These areas are nerve centers with lots of connections to and from other key areas.

You can think of the brain as a global airline network that's made up of small infrequently used airports and huge hubs like Heathrow where there is very high traffic.

The brain uses a similar set up to co-ordinate our thoughts and actions.

During adolescence, this network of big hubs is consolidated and strengthened. It's a bit like how Heathrow or JFK have become gradually busier over the years.

Researchers found that genes involved in the “hub” were similar to those associated with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The discovery is in line with the observation that many mental disorders develop during adolescence, according to researcher Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

"We have shown a pathway from the biology of cells in the area through to how people who are in their late teenage years might then have their first episode of psychosis," she told the BBC.

Genetics are not the only reason for mental illnesses. Older studies have also linked stress during childhood and the teenage years as a possible contributor. Recent findings have shown an association between maltreatment, abuse and neglect and brain development during childhood and adolescence. In addition, these types of stressors may also contribute to the emergence of mental illness.

Lead researcher, Professor Ed Bullmore, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, believes the discovery of a biological link between teenage brain development and the onset of mental illness might help researchers identify those most at risk of becoming ill.

"As we understand more about what puts people at risk for schizophrenia, that gives us an opportunity to try to identify individuals that are at risk of becoming schizophrenic in the foreseeable future, the next two to three years, and perhaps to offer some treatment then that could be helpful in preventing the onset of clinical symptoms. "

The study also sheds light on the mood and behavioral changes experienced by teenagers during normal brain development.

"The regions that are changing most are those associated with complex behavior and decision making," says Dr. Whitaker.

"It shows that teenagers are on a journey of becoming an adult and becoming someone who is able to pull together all these bits of information.

This is a really important stage to go through. You wouldn't want to be a child all your life.

This is a powerful and important stage that you have to go through to be the best and the most capable adult that you can be."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Story source: Pallab Ghosh, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36887224

 

Your Teen

Why Do Teens Use E-Cigarettes?

2:00

Why do teenagers give e-cigarettes a try? Because these products are easy to obtain, not terribly expensive, come in lots of different flavors and their friends use them. All very adolescent associated reasons.

If they continue using e-cigarettes, it’s because of the low cost and the promise that they can help them quit smoking regular cigarettes, according to senior researcher Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin. She is a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

Teens who initially tried e-cigarettes because of their low cost had significantly stepped up their use of e-cigarettes by the time researchers checked in six months later.

In addition, teens who tried e-cigarettes to quit smoking were more than 14 times more likely to keep using e-cigarettes than those who did not consider this a reason to try the devices, the findings showed.

Unfortunately, researchers found that e-cigarettes did not help the kids quit smoking. Four out of five teens that were smokers, were still smoking regular cigarettes six months later even though they were using e-cigarettes to quit, the investigators found.

E-cigarettes don't produce tobacco smoke, but they do contain nicotine. And researchers fear they'll create a new generation of smokers, with kids hooked on nicotine turning to tobacco for a stronger fix, Krishnan-Sarin said.

"That is the huge public health debate," she said. "Are kids going to start with e-cigarettes and then move on to cigarettes? Is that going to be the start of nicotine addiction?”

As part of the study, Krishnan-Sarin and her colleagues’ surveyed 340 e-cigarette users in two middle schools and three high schools in 2013, asking them why they first tried e-cigarettes.

Most cited reasons for first trying e-cigarettes as curiosity (57 percent), good flavors (42 percent), use by friends (33 percent), healthier than cigarettes (26 percent), can be used anywhere (21 percent) and does not smell bad (21 percent).

Six months later, researchers checked in with the teens and asked if they were still vaping and if so, why. They then compared the answers to the teens’ reasons for continued use with their previous reasons for starting e-cigarettes.

Kids who cited the low cost of e-cigarettes or their potential help to quit smoking wound up vaping more days on average than those who cited other reasons, the study authors said.

Teens who cited low cost, used e-cigarettes two out of every three days during the previous month, and those who wanted to quit smoking wound up vaping nearly that often, according to the study results.

Other reasons also predicted continued use of e-cigarettes: they don't smell bad; they come in good flavors; friends use them; they can be used anywhere; they can be hidden from adults; and they are healthier than tobacco.

But for kids who kept using e-cigarettes, "the most robust predictors were the low cost and trying e-cigarettes to quit smoking," said lead researcher Krysten Bold, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Krishnan-Sarin said these findings reveal several different means by which policymakers could make e-cigarettes less attractive to teenagers.

Earlier this year, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced new regulations for e-cigarettes. Anyone under 18 years of age cannot purchase them and they must show a photo I.D. if they appear to be younger than 27. Retailers cannot give out samples and cannot sell them in vending machines unless the machines are in adult-only facilities. These new rules went into effect August 8th.

The Food and Drug Administration will have to approve all e-cigarette products that have been available since February 2007. That means nearly every e-cigarette product on the market must go through an application process to deem whether it can continue to be sold.

However, the FDA did not address the issue of different flavors.

Federal officials also could ban the use of flavors in e-cigarettes, as has already been done in traditional cigarettes except for menthol, said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association.

"Despite recommendations from the American Lung Association and others, the final rule did not ban flavorings as they have in ordinary cigarettes," Edelman said. "We continue to believe all the measures that have been applied against ordinary cigarettes should be applied to e-cigarettes."

The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Story sources: Dennis Thompson, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20160808/why-teens-choose-e-cigarettes

Aamer Madhini, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/08/07/e-cigarette-regulations-set-go-into-effect/88362926/

Your Teen

FDA to Regulate E-cigarettes, Raise Age for Purchasing

2:00

Cigarette smoking among teens and young adults has been on a slight decline in the past few years, but e-cigarette use has been rapidly increasing.

Because there are no regulations and scant information on the products used to fuel e-cigarettes, many leading health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics have been urging the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to bring e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine under its authority.

The U.S. government has responded and taken action. The FDA issued a tough set of rules for the e-cigarette industry that included banning sales to anyone under 18, requiring package warning labels, and making all products—even those currently on the market—subject to government approval.

For many teen and health organizations, the ruling has been long overdue.

Though the product-approval process will be phased in during three years, that will be little solace to the fledgling but fast-growing $3.5 billion industry that has, until Aug. 8 when the rules take effect, largely been unregulated and dominated by small manufacturers and vape shops.

Many of the vape shops, device manufacturers and liquid nicotine producers are not happy with the change.

“This is going to be a grim day in the history of tobacco-harm reduction,” said Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an industry-funded advocacy group. “It will be a day where thousands of small businesses will be contemplating whether they will continue to stay in business and employ people.”

In June, the FDA proposed requiring warning labels and childproof packaging because of an increase in nicotine exposure and poisoning incidents. The agency could move to regulate advertising or flavors such as cotton candy and watermelon that also might appeal to youth.

“We’re looking at the flavor issue with e-cigarettes,” said FDA Tobacco Center Director Mitch Zeller during a news conference. Later, he said, that while the agency was aware of “anecdotal reports” that e-cigarettes have helped smokers kick their habit; those benefits were outweighed by concerns about youth using the devices.

E-cigarettes are not the only tobacco related products that will come under the control of the FDA. Unregulated tobacco items, including pipe tobacco and water-pipe tobacco, will also fall under the supervision of the FDA.

The FDA has been regulating cigarettes since Congress granted it oversight of traditional smokes with the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation—it will help us catch up with changes in the marketplace, put into place rules that protect our kids and give adults information they need to make informed decisions,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement.

Most researchers agree e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes because, unlike cigarettes, they don’t combust. Studies have shown that when traditional cigarettes combust they release more than 60 carcinogens. But the long-term effects of using the electronic devices remain largely unknown, and many anti-tobacco groups and public health officials are concerned they could become a gateway to traditional smoking.

Anti-tobacco groups have been frustrated with FDA, saying the agency has taken far too long to finalize its rules.

Concerns escalated when a study published in August by the Journal of the American Medical Association found ninth-graders who used e-cigarettes were 2½ times as likely as peers to have smoked traditional cigarettes a year later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that e-cigarette use tripled among U.S. teenagers in 2014.

The AAP issued its recommendations on tobacco and e-cigarettes in late 2015.

In a press release, the organization said it strongly recommends the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, should be increased to age 21 nationwide.

"Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults," said Karen M. Wilson, MD, MPH, FAAP, chair of the AAP Section on Tobacco Control and section head of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado. "The developing brains of children and teens are particularly vulnerable to nicotine, which is why the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among adolescents is so alarming and dangerous to their long-term health."

Under the new rules, e-cigarette manufacturers would have up to two years to continue to sell their products while they submit an application to the FDA.

Story sources: Tripp Mickle, Tom Burton, http://www.wsj.com/articles/fda-to-regulate-e-cigarettes-ban-sales-to-minors-1462455060

https://www.aap.org

 

Your Teen

What Is the Most Common and Deadly Cancer Found in Teens?

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Do you know the most common and deadly cancer found in teens and young adults? You may be as surprised as I was when I read that a new study shows it is brain cancer.  It’s also not a particular type of brain cancer, but can vary widely as people age.

"For these individuals -- who are finishing school, pursuing their careers and starting and raising young families -- a brain tumor diagnosis is especially cruel and disruptive," said Elizabeth Wilson, president and CEO of the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA).

"This report enables us for the first time to zero in on the types of tumors occurring at key [age] intervals over a 25-year time span, to help guide critical research investments and strategies for living with a brain tumor that reflect the patient's unique needs," Wilson said in an association news release.

Researchers look at data from 51 separate cancer registries, representing 99.9 percent of the U.S. population in the 15 to 39 year-old-age group.

While 2 types of tumors were the most frequently found in this age group, brain and central nervous system tumors, the report also noted that other types of cancer became more prevalent as people got older.

"What's interesting is the wide variability in the types of brain tumors diagnosed within this age group, which paints a much different picture than what we see in [older] adults or in pediatric patients," said report senior author Jill Barnholtz-Sloan, an associate professor at Case Western's Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland.

"For example, the most common tumor types observed in adults are meningiomas and glioblastomas, but there is much more diversity in the common tumor types observed in the adolescent and young adult population," Barnholtz-Sloan said in the news release.

"You also clearly see a transition from predominantly nonmalignant and low-grade tumors to predominantly high-grade tumors with increasing age," she added.

Nearly 700,000 people in the United States have brain and central nervous system tumors. And more than 10,600 such tumors are diagnosed in teens and young adults each year, with 434 dying of their disease annually, according to the ABTA.

The most common treatment for brain cancer continues to be surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. However, new research is looking into the development of tailored therapeutics involving a combination of targeted agents that use different molecules to reduce gene activity and suppress uncontrolled growth by killing or reducing the production of tumor cells based on their genetic character. Experimental treatment options may include new drugs, gene-therapy and biologic modulators that enhance the body’s overall immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells.

"There are clearly unique characteristics of the 15-39 age group that we need to more comprehensively understand, and the information in the ABTA report starts that important dialogue," Barnholtz-Sloan said.

The ABTA-funded report was recently published in journal Neuro-Oncology.

Story source: Robert Preidt, http://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/brain-cancer-news-93/brain-cancers-both-common-and-deadly-among-young-adults-report-shows-708339.html

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brainandspinaltumors/brainandspinaltumors.htm

Your Teen

Overweight Girls Start Periods At Earlier Age

1.45 to read

Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.It's nothing new that girls are getting younger and younger when they have their first period, but experts worry that the current obesity epidemic could be fueling that trend.

Overweight or obese girls get their first period months earlier than their normal-weight peers, according to a Danish study. Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. About 17 percent of American kids and teens are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the study, researchers used information on body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in relation to height -- and age at first period from about 3,200 Danish girls born between 1984 and 1987. The girls started their period just after they had turned 13, on average, which is about half a year later than in the U.S. Keim said part of the reason for this difference may be that African-Americans tend to start their periods before white girls. On average, a girl got her period about 25 days earlier for every point her BMI increased. For a female of about average height and weight, a one-point change in BMI is equivalent to about six pounds. Overweight and obese girls, for example, got their period three to five months before normal-weight girls, said Anshu Shrestha, a graduate student at UCLA School of Public Health, who worked on the study. There has been past research showing a link between BMI and when girls start menstruating. However, since this study was done more recently, it shows that the link is holding up in today's generation, Keim said. The researchers also found that a girl's mother's weight was related to when her daughter started menstruating, but less so than earlier work had hinted. For every point her mother's BMI when pregnant went up, the girl's period came about a week earlier, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Keim said the Danish findings reinforce the importance of keeping a healthy weight. "It's important for your entire life, starting from very early on," she told Reuters Health. "And it can even affect your children's health." Talking to your daughter about Menstruation. Most girls begin to menstruate when they're about 12, but periods are possible as early as age 8. That's why explaining menstruation early is so important. But menstruation is an awkward subject to talk about, especially with preteen girls, who are often embarrassed by this discussion. So what's the best way to approach this ticklish topic? If your daughter asks questions about menstruation, answer them openly and honestly. Provide as many details as you think she needs at the time. It's OK to let your daughter set the pace, but don't let her avoid the topic entirely. If she's not asking questions as she approaches the preteen years, it's up to you to start talking about menstruation. Don't plan a single tell-all discussion. Instead, talk about the various issues - from basic hygiene to fear of the unknown - in a series of short conversations. Consider it part of a continuing conversation on how the human body works. Remember, your daughter needs good information about the menstrual cycle and all the other changes that puberty brings. If her friends are her only source of information, she may hear some nonsense and take it for fact. To introduce the subject of menstruation, you might ask your daughter what she knows about puberty. Clarify any misinformation and ask what questions she might have. It may be helpful to time your conversations with the health lessons and sex education your daughter is receiving in school, or you could broach the subject before a routine doctor's appointment. You can tell your daughter that the doctor may ask her whether she's gotten her period yet. Then ask if she has any questions or concerns about menstruation. Girls might prefer to learn about menstruation from a female family member, but sometimes that's not possible. If you're a single father and you're not comfortable talking about menstruation, you might delegate these conversations to a female relative or friend. The key is to make sure the information is relayed somehow. The biology of menstruation is important, but most girls are more interested in practical information about periods. Your daughter may want to know when it's going to happen, what it's going to feel like and what she'll need to do when the time comes. - What is menstruation? Menstruation means a girl's body is physically capable of becoming pregnant. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina. This is a period. - Does it hurt? Many girls have cramps, typically in the lower abdomen, when their periods begin. Cramps can be dull and achy or sharp and intense. Exercise, a heating pad or an over-the-counter pain reliever may help ease any discomfort. - When will it happen? No one can tell exactly when a girl will get her first period. Typically, however, girls begin menstruating about two years after their breasts begin to develop. Many girls experience a thin, white vaginal discharge about one year before menstruation begins. - What should I do? Explain how to use sanitary pads or tampons. Many girls are more comfortable starting with pads, but it's OK to use tampons right away. Remind your daughter that it may take some practice to get used to inserting tampons. Stock the bathroom with various types of sanitary products ahead of time. Encourage your daughter to experiment until she finds the product that works best for her. - What if I'm at school? Encourage your daughter to carry a few pads or tampons in her backpack or purse, just in case. Many school bathrooms have coin-operated dispensers for these products. The school nurse also may have supplies. - Will everyone know that I have my period? Assure your daughter that pads and tampons aren't visible through clothing. No one needs to know that she has her period. - What if blood leaks onto my pants? Offer your daughter practical suggestions for covering up stains until she's able to change clothes, such as tying a sweatshirt around her waist. You might also encourage your daughter to wear dark pants or shorts when she has her period, just in case. Your daughter may worry that she's not normal if she starts having periods before, or after, friends her age do, or if her periods aren't like those of her friends. But menstruation varies with the individual. Some girls have periods that last two days, while others have periods that last more than a week. It can even vary this drastically from month to month in the same girl. The amount of blood lost each month can vary, too, usually from 4 to 12 teaspoons (about 20 to 60 milliliters). It's also common for girls to have irregular periods for the first year or two. Some months might even go by without a period. Once your daughter's cycle settles down, teach her how to track her periods on a calendar. Eventually she may be able to predict when her periods will begin. Schedule a medical checkup for your daughter if: - Her periods last more than seven days - She has menstrual cramps that aren't relieved by over-the-counter medications - She's soaking more pads or tampons than usual - She's missing school or other activities because of painful or heavy periods - She goes three months without a period or suspects she may be pregnant - She hasn't started menstruating by age 15 The changes associated with puberty can be a little scary. Reassure your daughter that it's normal to feel apprehensive about menstruating, but it's nothing to be too worried about and you're there to answer any questions she may have.

Your Teen

Good Family Relationships Helps Teens Avoid Obesity

1:30

Two of the most valuable resources a teen can have are a stable family and a good relationship with their parents. Adolescents that have these two important components in their lives are more likely to develop healthy habits that may protect them from obesity, according to new study.

"A high level of family dysfunction may interfere with the development of healthful behaviors due to the families' limited ability to develop routines related to eating, sleep or activity behaviors, which can lead to excess weight gain," said the study's lead author, Jess Haines, of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

For the study, the researchers reviewed information on about 3,700 daughters and 2,600 sons, aged 14 to 24, in the United States.

About 80 percent reported having close and stable families. The findings showed that 60 percent of daughters and 50 percent of sons said they had a good relationship with their parents.

Researchers also found that teens with good family relationships are more likely to be more active and get enough sleep. Two factors, in addition to a healthy diet, that contributes to reasonable weight control.

The daughters in these families ate less fast food, and were less likely to be overweight or obese, the researchers discovered.

They also noted that fathers play an important role in helping their sons develop better choices that allow them to maintain a healthy weight.

"Much of the research examining the influence of parents has typically examined only the mother's influence or has combined information across parents," Haines said in a university news release.

"Our results underscore the importance of examining the influence fathers have on their children, and to develop strategies to help fathers support the development of healthy behaviors among their children," she said.

"It appears the father-son parent relationship has a stronger influence on sons than the mother-daughter relationship has on young women," said Haines.

As kids grow into adolescents, a tug of war between independence and parental control often develops. Research has shown that ongoing positive family relationships offer protective influences for teens against a range of risky behaviors. Sometimes it may feel like as our teens mature, family influence begins to wane - but that’s not the reality. This study points out how important a stable home life and good relationships are in helping teens develop a lifetime of healthy habits.

The study was published recently in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Story source: Mary Elizabeth Dallas, https://consumer.healthday.com/public-health-information-30/family-health-news-749/parents-play-key-role-in-teens-health-712354.html

Your Teen

Teens Using Internet for Better Health

2:00

There’s been a lot of bad news concerning teens and the Internet but finally there’s something good to report. According to a new study, many adolescents are using the Internet to research ideas on how they can improve their health.

In the first national study in more than a decade to look at how adolescents use digital tools for health information, nearly one-third of teenagers said they used online data to improve behavior — such as cutting back on drinking soda, using exercise to combat depression and trying healthier recipes — according to a study to be released Tuesday by researchers at Northwestern University.

Now that’s the kind of Internet use that makes parents let out a sigh of relief.

The study emphasizes the importance of making sure that there is accurate and easy to understand information that is available “because it’s used and acted upon,” said Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development and lead author of the report.

While social media may be the new neighborhood community, 88 percent of the participants said they didn’t want to share their health concerns on Facebook or on one of the many other social media outlets.

“I mainly find it kind of moving, because it really illustrates that a lot of teens are grappling with very real, very important health challenges and that the Internet is empowering them with the information they need to take better care of themselves,” said Vicky Rideout, a co-author of the study.

Researchers surveyed 1,156 American teenagers between 13- and 18-years-old. Teens in English-speaking households were surveyed last fall, and those in Spanish-dominant households were surveyed in March. Eighty percent of those surveyed attended public school.

The survey explored how often teens use online tools, how much information they receive, what topics they are most concerned with, what sources they trust and whether they have changed their health behaviors as a result.

The top health topics were fitness and exercise (42 percent), diet and nutrition (36 percent), stress or anxiety (19 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent), puberty (18 percent), and depression or other mental health issues (16 percent).

While Internet health-related searchers are growing in popularity, parents are still the number one choice for teens to learn about health issues (55 percent).

The next source was health classes in school, doctors and nurses and Internet searches being the fourth most popular way to get the information they wanted.

“The Internet is not replacing parents, teachers, and doctors; it is supplementing them,” the researchers wrote.

In fact, 23 percent of teens say they have gone online to research information about a condition that affects a friend or family member. Data from the study indicates that 31 percent of low-income teens have done so, compared with 18 percent of high-income teens.

What are the top health topics teens are Googling? Fitness and exercise was number one (42 percent). Followed by diet and nutrition (36 percent). Next up was stress or anxiety (19 percent), and a few that many parents might not think of; sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent), puberty (18 percent), and depression or other mental health issues (16 percent).

The survey points out that teens may need extra attention when it comes to digital literacy skills. So many articles are wrapped in advertising that is trying to sell someone a particular weight-loss product or new diet aid. Half of teens say they usually click on the first site that comes up. Domain names that end with “.edu” are more trusted than those that end with “.com,” the survey found.

“We need to make sure there is good information for teens online,” Rideout said. Teens could be influenced by the tweets they see about e-cigarettes without realizing that a large proportion are coming from manufacturers, she said.

Still though, teens are learning a lot from the Internet; a place where they can search for answers anonymously. It’s up to parents, teachers, doctors and nurses to guide them towards websites with sound information that is based on on the kinds of websites where they can find science-centered information and helpful advice.

Source: Lena H. Sun, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/nearly-13-of-teens-changed-health-habits-based-on-digital-search-study-finds/2015/06/01/c6679aec-0892-11e5-95fd-d580f1c5d44e_story.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Teen

10 Reasons Teens Act The Way They Do

2:30

Anyone in the midst of raising a teen knows that the adolescent years can be some of the most difficult to get through and understand.

As a parent or guardian of a teenager that wants to be more independent, but also needs supervision and guidance, the times can be challenging indeed.

If that’s the position you find yourself in, you may be asking – what’s going on in that youngster’s brain? Actually, there’s a lot happening!

There are several scientific reasons an adolescent brain can be similar to a toddler’s: After infancy, the brain's most dramatic growth spurt occurs in adolescence. Here’s 10 things you may not know about your teen’s brain.

10. Critical period of development. Adolescence is generally considered to be the years between 11 and 19. It’s easy to see the outward changes that occur in boys and girls during this time, but inside, their brains are working on overdrive.

"The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence," said Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Parents should understand that no matter how tall their son has sprouted or how grown-up their daughter dresses, "they are still in a developmental period that will affect the rest of their life," Johnson told LiveScience

9. The growing brain. Scientists used to believe the greatest leap in neuronal connections occurred in infancy, but brain imaging studies show that a second burst of neuronal sprouting happens right before puberty, peaking at about age 11 for girls and 12 for boys.

The adolescent's experiences shape this new grey matter, mostly following a "use it or lose it" strategy, Johnson said. The structural reorganization is thought to continue until the age of 25, and smaller changes continue throughout life.

8. New Thinking Skills. This increase in brain matter allows the teenager to become more interconnected and gain processing power, Johnson notes.

If given time and access to information, adolescents start to have the computational and decision-making skills of an adult. However, their decisions may be more emotional than objective because their brains rely more on the limbic system (the emotional seat of the brain) than the more rational prefrontal cortex.

"This duality of adolescent competence can be very confusing for parents," Johnson said, meaning that sometimes teens do things, like punching a wall or driving too fast, when, if asked, they clearly know better.

Sound familiar?

7.  Teen tantrums. While teens are acquiring amazing new skills during this time, they aren’t that good at using them yet, especially when it comes to social behavior and abstract thought.

That’s when parents can become the proverbial guinea pig. Many kids this age view conflict as a type of self-expression and may have trouble focusing on an abstract idea or understanding another's point of view.

Particularly in today’s heavy media influenced world, teens are dealing with a huge amount of social, emotional and cognitive flux says Sheryl Feinstein, author of Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.)

That’s when they need a more stable adult brain (parents) to help them stay calm and find the better path.

6. Intense emotions. Remember the limbic system mentioned earlier (the more emotional part of the brain)? It’s accelerated development, along with hormonal changes, may give rise to newly intense experiences of rage, fear, aggression (including towards oneself), excitement and sexual attraction.

Over the course of adolescence, the limbic system comes under greater control of the prefrontal cortex, the area just behind the forehead, which is associated with planning, impulse control and higher order thought.

As teens grow older, additional areas in the brain start to help it process emotions and gain equilibrium in decision-making and interpreting others. But until that time, teens can often misread parents and teachers Feinstein said.

5. Peer pressure. As teens become better at abstract thinking, their social anxiety begins to increase.  Ever wonder why your teen seems obsessed with what others are thinking and doing?

Abstract reasoning makes it possible to consider yourself from the eyes of another. Teens may use this new skill to ruminate about what others are thinking of them. In particular, peer approval has been shown to be highly rewarding to the teen brain, Johnson said, which may be why teens are more likely to take risks when other teens are around.

Friends also provide teens with opportunities to learn skills such as negotiating, compromise and group planning. "They are practicing adult social skills in a safe setting and they are really not good at it at first," Feinstein said. So even if all they do is sit around with their friends, teens are hard at work acquiring important life skills.

4. Measuring risk.  "The brakes come online somewhat later than the accelerator of the brain," said Johnson, referring to the development of the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system respectively.

At the same time, "teens need higher doses of risk to feel the same amount of rush adults do," Johnson said. Not a very comforting thought for parents.

This is a time when teens are vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviors, such as trying drugs, sex, getting into fights or jumping into unsafe water.

So what can a parent do during this risky time? "Continue to parent your child." Johnson said. Like all children, "teens have specific developmental vulnerabilities and they need parents to limit their behavior," she said.

It’s when being a parent to your child instead of trying to be their “friend” is more difficult but much more important for their physical and emotional safety.

3. Yes, parents are still important. According to Feinstein, a survey of teenagers revealed that 84 percent think highly of their mothers and 89 percent think highly of their fathers. And more than three-quarters of teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents; 79 percent enjoy hanging out with Mom and 76 percent like chilling with Dad. That’s not 100%, but it’s probably more than you thought.

One of the tasks of adolescence is separating from the family and establishing some autonomy, Feinstein said, but that does not mean a teen no longer needs parents – even if they say otherwise.

"They still need some structure and are looking to their parents to provide that structure," she said. "The parent that decides to treat a 16 or 17 year old as an adult is behaving unfairly and setting them up for failure." 

Listening to your teen and being a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and the other difficulties life can present, can help your teen figure out their own coping strategies.

2. Sleep. Ah, yes, sleep. Although teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, their bodies are telling them a different story. Part of the problem is a shift in circadian rhythms during adolescence: It makes sense to teen bodies to get up later and stay up later, Johnson said.

But due to early bussing and class schedules, many teens rack up sleep debt and "become increasingly cognitively impaired across the week," Johnson said. Sleep-deprivation only exacerbates moodiness and cloudy decision-making. And sleep is thought to aid the critical reorganization of the teen brain.

"There is a disconnect between teen’s bodies and our schedules," Johnson said.

Shutting down the electronics an hour before bedtime has been shown to help teens as well as adults get to sleep quicker and sleep better. No computer, TV, video games or cell phones.

1.The “I am the Center of the Universe” syndrome. You may have noticed that your teen’s hormones are causing quite a bit of havoc. Experts say that’s to be expected. But you may still wonder- what the heck is going on with my kid?

The hormone changes at puberty have huge affects on the brain, one of which is to spur the production of more receptors for oxytocin, according to a 2008 issue of the journal Developmental Review.

The increased sensitivity caused by oxytocin has a powerful impact on the area of the brain controlling one’s emotions. Teens develop a feeling of self-consciousness and may truly believe that everyone is watching him or her. These feelings peek around age 15.

While this may make a teen seem self-centered (and in their defense, they do have a lot going on), the changes in the teen brain may also spur some of the more idealistic efforts tackled by young people throughout history.

"It is the first time they are seeing themselves in the world," Johnson said, meaning their greater autonomy has opened their eyes to what lies beyond their families and schools. They are asking themselves, she continued, for perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be?

Until their brains develop enough to handle shades of grey, their answers to these questions can be quite one-sided, Feinstein said, but the parents' job is to help them explore the questions, rather than give them answers.

And there you have it. Teen’s brains are exploding with new data, confusing signals and dueling desires. It’s a tough time in one’s development- but rest assured, what you teach them by example and compassion as well as how you gingerly help guide them will last a life-time. Even when you do the best you can, there are no guarantees that they will turn out the way you’re hoping they will – they are after all- individuals with a will and a mind of their own. But now you know a little more about why your teen acts the way they do.

Story Source: Robin Nixon, http://www.livescience.com/13850-10-facts-parent-teen-brain.html

Your Teen

Keep Teen Drivers Safe

Firm parents keep teen drivers safe. No more texting in the car while driving.Your parenting style can make a huge difference in your teen's safety once he or she gets behind the wheel of a car.

Parents who set firm rules, but do so in a helpful, supportive way, can reduce the likelihood of their teen getting into an auto accident by half and decrease rates of drinking and driving, two new studies find. Positive rule-setting can also increase the odds a teen will wear a seatbelt and lessen the likelihood of talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. "Parent involvement really matters. Active parenting can save teenagers' lives," said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Parents who give rules, set boundaries and monitor those boundaries with warmth and support can have a really dramatic effect on teen driving safety." Ginsburg is the lead author of two studies published online in Pediatric. Both studies were sponsored by State Farm Insurance. The first study looked at the association between parenting styles and teen driving behaviors and attitudes, while the second assessed teen behavior based on their access to a vehicle. It included a nationally representative sample of 5,665 teens in 9th through 11th grades. Parenting style was reported by the teens and fell into one of four categories: authoritative (high support along with rules and monitoring); authoritarian (low support with rules and monitoring), permissive (high support with low rules and monitoring), and uninvolved (low support and low rules). Teens who had authoritative or authoritarian parents wore seatbelts twice as often as teens with uninvolved parents. Teens with parents in these groups were also half as likely to speed as those with uninvolved parents. Teens with authoritative parents -- high support and rules -- were half as likely to get into a car accident, 71 percent less likely to drink and drive, and 29 percent less likely to talk or text on their cell phones while driving compared to teens with uninvolved parents. The second study included 2,167 teens and found that 70 percent had "primary access" to a vehicle. That didn't necessarily mean that the teens had their own cars, Ginsburg said, but it could mean they had easy access to the keys and didn't need to ask permission to take a family car. After controlling the data to account for the extra hours these teens likely spent behind the wheel, the researchers found that teens with easy access to a vehicle were more than twice as likely to crash, about 25 percent more likely to use a cell phone while driving and about 25 percent more likely to speed than teens who had to ask permission to use a car. Why the difference? Ginsburg said he suspects it's because teens with easy access to a car don't necessarily feel as accountable. They don't have anyone asking where they're going or whom they'll be with. "They miss out on that conversation and appropriate monitoring," he said. Parents should control the keys to the car for at least the first six to 12 months of driving, he added. Ginsburg said there are clear rules that must always be followed, and rules that will change as your teen gains experience and demonstrates responsibility. Those rules include:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Never speed.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Never drive fatigued.
  • Never use your cell phone or text while driving.

Rules that can change as your child gains experience and skill include having passengers, driving at night, increased access to the car and driving in bad weather. Ginsburg said it's important to make sure there's a reward for your teen for good driving behavior. "There has to be something in it for them," he said. Most parents worry more about sex, drugs and drinking than they do about driving, but car crashes are the biggest threat to teen safety, Ginsburg added. "The great news is that parents really matter. And, when you stay involved and do so in a way that promotes safety, not control, driving becomes the greatest opportunity to promote their children's safety.

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DR SUE'S DAILY DOSE

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