Lesson Two: The Teenage Brain (Free Preview)

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I don’t know how many times someone has said to me, “You work with middle schoolers? I don’t know how you do it. I could never do that!” Let’s face it, teenagers can be weird and quirky, but isn’t that why we love our jobs so much?

It is sometimes astounding to watch the light bulb go off one day for a student and then have them forget this same information just a day later.

I often hear from parents upset with their teen. They say that when their child was in elementary school she was organized and had great time management skills. Yet, once she turned eleven or twelve, she lost it all. Why is this happening? How can students have skills and then suddenly seem to lose them? Why is your daughter happy one minute and crying hysterically the next? Or, why does your son lock himself in his room for hours at a time playing video games?

Well, it all boils down to the brain, their frontal lobe and the prefrontal cortex. Even teens with normal executive functioning can struggle with their behaviors governed by these skills. At this stage, their brains are going through a critical stage of development. A surge of growth of neurons and synapses just before adolescence is followed by a process called pruning (explained in detail on pages 22-23 of Smart But Scattered Teens.) During this period of development, the “use it or lose it” process may occur in the frontal lobe. In other words, “Neural connections, including synapses, that are used are retained, while those that are not exercised are lost.”

This is why understanding the teenage brain is so important. If we want our students to have good executive skills, we need to teach them to them. They will not just magically appear.


    1. Watch the Teenage Brain Explained A bit funny, but full of value.
    2. Watch the first two videos of the Frontline episode “The Teenage Brain”
      1.  Teenagers’ Inexplicable Behavior
      2. The Wiring of the Adolescent Brain
    3. In 250 words or more, describe some new learning you have about teenagers from watching this video.
      1. Were there any surprises for you?
      2. Did it confirm your existing views?
      3. Did it explain any behaviors you see, or maybe saw in yourself at that time?
    4. Upload your work document below
    5. In the comments section below, share a story of when you were a teen, or if you prefer and you have/had a teen of your own, share one of those.








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Executive Functioning and the Teenage Brain

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