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Teen Brain


The teen brain is developing and changing. Learning about the teen brain can help parents and caregivers to better understand and support their teen through adolescence.

Understanding the teen brain

The teenage brain continues to develop until age 25. These brain changes affect a teen’s mood and behaviour.

  • During the teenage years, the emotional brain develops first; it rules a teen’s thinking and behaviour. The emotional brain gets excited by taking risks and looking for thrilling experiences.
  • The brain's frontal lobe (the rational brain), which is responsible for reasoning, develops later. The rational brain is responsible for planning, organizing, controlling impulses and self-awareness.
  • The emotional brain drives teens’ decisions by suggesting that they “do it now." The rational brain tells teens to “stop and think about it.” In times of intense emotion or excitement, the rational brain often takes a back seat.
  • For these reasons, teens may speak or act without thinking about the possible outcome or results.

Tips for parents

  • Nurture your teen. Tell your teen how much you care. Show an interest in their life. Make a habit of encouraging and praising what they are doing well, and your teen will respond with positive behaviour.
  • Provide guidance, opportunities and environments that support the development of the rational or “thinking” brain. Help your teen to plan ahead for situations (e.g., going out with friends, preparing for an exam, etc.).
  • Problem-solve possible situations together. Talk about your concerns.
  • When you find yourself in conflict with your teen, remember that emotions direct your teen’s behaviour.
  • Stay calm. Don’t engage in a power struggle about how to think and who is right.
  • Focus on the important issues of health and safety; help your teen think of the possible results of their actions. Provide opportunities for safe risk taking (e.g., performing in front of an audience, skateboarding or skiing using the proper safety equipment, etc.).
  • Monitor what your teen is doing. Get to know your teen’s friends. Ask where they are going, what they are doing and who they will be with. Tell your teen what time to be home. Set limits.
  • Help your teen plan ahead for situations where they might encounter substances such as alcohol or cannabis.

Note: Some substances such as alcohol, nicotine and cannabis can affect the teen brain. Please visit Substance Use Prevention and Teens for more information.