The Teacher and the Teenage Brain

At Family Links we have had the privilege of working with Dr John Coleman, psychologist and author, for a number of years. Over this time the emerging science of brain development has opened our eyes to the significant changes that happen in the teenage brain.

This knowledge has helped to make the emotional ups and downs of the teenage years more explicable, and we have found that sharing this understanding helps to change the way teachers, practitioners and parents think about the challenging behaviours they see. It enables them to be more empathic, to stand back and, crucially, not to take things personally. This helps them to manage their own feelings and in turn they are better able to help the young people they support to manage theirs. It also enables them to recognise this period as a stage and to understand that there is capacity for change.

Good relationships together with enabling environments, whether at home or at school, can really make a difference to the outcomes for young people. Adults who play a part in the lives of teenagers have the capacity to influence these relationships and environments. As one parent told us, “He’s so moody but then so am I, maybe I have to change first”.

The changes in the brain during the teenage years make young people more vulnerable to mental health difficulties, as well as emotional health problems. It’s important to recognise the interplay between biology and environment; how adults respond to young people influences not only how they feel and behave but how the hormones in their bodies are released and how their brains are wired. Youth Mental Health Day is on 7th September with the theme #StrideForward. Most young people have managed well during the pandemic, experiencing normal and understandably difficult feelings about an abnormal situation. For some however it has been a particularly challenging time and with the return to school it’s important that teachers and others think about how their responses can enable or disable the capacity of all young people to stride forward. To quote Christopher Day from the School of Education in Nottingham, “Resilience is not simply an individual trait, but a capacity that arises through interactions between people within organisational contexts”.

You can hear John Coleman talking about the Teacher and the Teenage Brain in our interview with him.

To obtain a copy of his fascinating book, visit the Family Links shop. John has also worked with Family Links to develop the My Teen Brain and Understanding Teenagers training courses for family workers and teachers, along with the Talking Teens programme for parents.