Not My Teen: Exploratory Preteen Behavior May Be Influenced By The Brain

By Stop Medicine Abuse Posted May 26, 2015 under Not My Teen

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how brain chemistry affects teen behavior.

Adolescence is often associated with changes and new experiences, but there isn’t really a way for parents to predict how their children will respond to this transitional stage of development. Or is there?

A new study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. on April 21, evaluated exploratory behaviors in early adolescence. Specifically, researchers looked at whether preteens who experiment or explore new things have brain processes that work differently than those of preteens who do not. This research could help “understand how exploration can lead to both good and bad behaviors that promote or reduce well-being in teenagers” says study author Andrew Kayser of the University of California, San Francisco.

The study evaluated 62 girls between the ages of 11 and 13 who were asked to complete tasks that measured their exploratory and experimenting behavior. The girls were asked to participate in a reward-based task that involved a clock face. The second hand of the clock made a complete rotation in five seconds and girls were told they would earn points based on when they stopped the second hand. Therefore, they had to “explore” the clock by stopping the second hand at different times in order to see what would be rewarded most.

The girls were then split into two groups based on their actions from the task: 41 girls were placed in the “explorers” group and 21 girls were placed in the “non-explorers” group. Researchers then compared brain scans and identified that the girls from the “explorers” group had a stronger connection between the parts of the brain sensitive to the “state of the body” and “carrying out actions” than those in the “non-explorers” group.

So, what does this all mean? According to Kayser, “if we can better understand these brain connections, down the road we may be able to come up with a way to better identify teens most likely to engage in dangerous or risky behaviors.”

Overall, it is important for us, as parents, to understand that our children will be inclined to experience and explore new things as they grow older. This isn’t to say that all new experiences will lead to negative outcomes, but it is important that we talk to our children about avoiding dangerous situations that may lead to risky behaviors. It may not be the easiest conversation to have, but it will be worth it. For ideas on how to start the discussion, feel free to look through our conversation starter kit.

Do you have ideas on talking to your child about avoiding risky situations? Please let us know in the comments below!