During adolescence the brain changes almost as rapidly as it does during infancy (Beckett and Taylor, 2019). During this period, like in the early years, synaptic pruning takes place in which neural pathways that are not reinforced disappear while those regularly used become more engrained. There is increased myelination at this time. Myelin protects brain cells and neural pathways, making them more efficient but also restricting the capacity for change. The limbic system drives emotion and exploration of new behaviour and is developing rapidly in this period, while frontal lobes which are central to self-regulation and executive function do not catch up until early adulthood. This helps to understand the impulsive and experimental behaviour of these years which are part of the process of forming an identity. Hormonal changes also contribute towards this behaviour. All of this rapid development makes the teenage brain more vulnerable. The connections between the right and left hemispheres are strengthened and there emerges a higher level of cognitive functioning meaning complex information can be processed in a more sophisticated way.
Problems like depression, eating disorders, criminal and deviant behaviour often first emerge in this period (Beckett and Taylor, 2019). Factors that facilitate successful transition to adulthood include parental involvement and connectedness to young people; parental acceptance of conflict and children’s emotions; and parental ability to set firm boundaries. In other words, the transition takes place best within the context of a secure attachment. Parents who experienced insecure attachment in their childhood will find it harder to provide this for their children. The more stress factors a person is exposed to at this time, the more likely is a poor outcome. Stressors include illness, bereavement, moving home, poverty, an accident or just the transitions of adolescence. Coping skills can be taught and there is evidence to suggest that teaching them in school can have positive outcomes. Friendship networks are important in coping and so those with social skills deficits will be more vulnerable. Teaching these social skills can be another strategy to promote resilience. Having at least one adult who cares and is available during turning points appears to be central to the development of resilience in the face of adversity.
Researchers Have found that insecurely attached adolescents are more likely to have emotional difficulties and engage in problem behaviour like delinquency and drug abuse (Santrock, 2017). Between age 15 and 20 insecure attachments to the mother were linked with becoming depressed and staying depressed. Secure attachment at 14 was linked with positive outcomes at 21, including relationship and career competence as well as fewer problematic behaviours. In a research review the most consistent finding of secure attachment in adolescence was positive peer relations and development of the ability to regulate emotions in the adolescent. Parents play an important role in adolescence. Although teens are seeking autonomy they also need to stay connected to their family. Less contact with parents has been linked with greater problems.
Beckett, C., & Taylor, H. (2019). Human growth and development. SAGE.
Santrock, J. W. (2019). Life-span development.