How to Make the Most of a Teenage Brain

Written by Siddhi Latey

I remember bidding an excited farewell to my family as I left for my first day of college. My bag felt a lot lighter, but my mind was heavier. Having caught a bit of the Bollywood fever I was convinced that if I were to make a mark in college, I had to be attractive and look beautiful which in turn meant spending an extravagant amount of money on clothes and even more time getting dressed. After a month of watching my grades drop while I stared at myself in the mirror for hours, my mother decided to intervene. 

“You might not agree now, but more than straight hair and long eyelashes, confidence will make you beautiful and empathy will be your strength. What makes people fun and interesting is what lies inside you, and not outside of you.” Sure enough I didn’t pay any heed to her then, but I agree vehemently now.

The human brain is a complex organ that commands like a king over the rest of the body. Like every worthy king, our brain too requires training and learning to be able to reign splendidly. A teenage brain is still in its formative years and the intensive brain remodelling that happens during this time continues until our mid-twenties. Interestingly, during this time, our brains develop from the back to the front. So, while adults use their prefrontal cortex (situated at the front of the brain) to make rational judgments, plan and predict consequences of actions, solve problems, and control impulses, teenagers rely on the amygdala (situated further behind the prefrontal cortex) to make decisions and solve problems. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour, and hence reflect similar traits in a teenager’s decision-making. 

However, the following are easy ways in which we can make optimum use of our developing teenage brain so that it reaches its maximum potential as a wise and well-governing king:- 

Practice Meditation

The complexities of being a teenager are often neglected by adults. In current times, the rising expectation to find balance between schoolwork, part-time jobs, sports, and maintaining an active social life can induce significant anxiety. Regardless of the reason, practicing regular meditation will help in the effective management of stress. Not only does meditation help calm the mind, but it also aids sleep, helps regulate emotions, lowers chances of substance abuse, and improves attention span. To make meditation a habit, there are applications such as The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, etc. that help you navigate past the initial hiccups that you might come across.


Explore and Engage in Hobbies

Although the teenage brain garners a bad reputation, there are certain aspects that make it advantageous. Since the brain is still developing, it is much easier for teenagers to learn something new as compared to adults. Moreover, during this age our brains begin to experience “identity formation” and “differentiation.” While the former involves becoming an individual with a set of personal wants, needs, skills, and preferences, the latter has to do with the formation of an identity outside and apart from parents and family. Hence, this is the best time to take on a hobby such as reading, writing, painting, engaging in a sport, learning a new language, etc. To enable personality development, it is crucial we take time out to develop and sustain hobbies that when initiated as a teenager are more likely to last us a lifetime.    


Enjoy a Good Night’s Sleep

Fatigue is a common complaint amongst teenagers. Sleeping provides fuel to our brain and body, and adolescents require additional sleep because their bodies and minds are growing quickly. To be at their best, teenagers should sleep for at least eight to ten hours at a stretch. A lack of the same can result in trouble with memory, concentration, and motivation, and can also in extreme cases, cause depression. To aid a good night’s sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should stop using electronic devices, like your cellphone, at least thirty minutes before bedtime. Limiting naps, exercising regularly, not eating or drinking before going to bed are some other things that will help you slip into a peaceful slumber.    


Take Healthy and Calculated Risks

Owing to the influence of the amygdala in decision-making, adolescents tend to choose high-risk activities, express strong emotions, and make impulsive decisions. However, if we forced ourselves against the temptation to make high-risk decisions, and instead took healthy and calculated risks purposefully, we could engage in new and different experiences while also harbouring an exceptional, above-average independent identity. To determine whether your decision will be helpful for you or will be counter-productive, it is best to discuss it with a mentor, parent or any reliable adult with whom you feel comfortable exploring creative outlets.