The news that Justin Bieber’s voice is changing has girls wondering what his new, deep voice will sound like and boys hoping he’ll embarrass himself in the middle of a concert. I decided to use the news to talk a little bit about boys biology during puberty and how we can support them.
David Walsh’s book “Why Do They Act That Way?” is a great book about teen changes. Here are some of the highlights:
- Smart kids sometimes do dumb things because the thinking, reasoning, impulse control center of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully wired until around 20 years old. Because the prefrontal cortex’s wiring is still incomplete, the adolescent PFC can’t always distinguish between a good decision and a bad one, no matter how intelligent the kid is.
- Testosterone does good things like make boy’s bodies and muscles develop. It also has a powerful affect on the amygdala, the fight or flight center of the brain. In teenage boys, testosterone triggers surges of anger, aggression, sexual interest, dominance, and territoriality. And because testosterone is geared toward quick tension release, adolescent boys are prone to follow ANY impulse that might release stress.
- At the same time that adolescent boys are having trouble stifling impulses, they are being barraged with an unprecedented onslaught of powerful urges, lightning quick mood changes, and confusing new feelings caused by hormones.
- Norepinephrine is the energizer neurotransmitter. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter. Serotonin is the mood stabilizing neurotransmitter. All three of these affect hormone changes during adolescence, which creates drastic and confusing mood changes.
- Adults and teen boys use different parts of the brain when interpreting emotions. Adults use the prefrontal cortex, which is reasoned. Teens use the amygdala, the center of fight or flight, fear or anger. Adults use reason; teens use a gut reaction, and are frequently wrong. When a seemingly normal conversation with an adolescent suddenly spins out of control, it’s not just because a kid is being difficult or having a bad attitude. The kid may really be interpreting the outside world, especially emotional messages, differently.
- When teen boys are in love (even just shown pictures of people they have feelings for), the seat of reason in the brain is mostly inactive. The emotional and pleasure centers of the brain are very active. The brain activity is very similar to someone who is on cocaine, and it can become addicting. Falling in love can blind teens to serious problems, risks, and emotional and physical abuse.
- Teens boys will be sensitive about their changing bodies and self-conscious about their behavior. They may hold back from doing or saying things (answering questions in class), even if they are able, because of how it will look.
- Teen boys will have contradictory feelings at the same time along the lines of: “Mom, I want you to stop treating me like a kid, but please don’t forget to hug me at bedtime.” Or “Get out of my life, but can you give me money to go to a movie with my friends?”
This information can help us to be patient with adolescent boys and some of the crazies that come with puberty. Teen boys still need to talk and get information and support from parents about what’s going on with them. One of the best times to talk to teen boys is during a car ride. In the car, you’ve got a captive audience, you’re sitting side by side rather than facing each other across a table, and there are visual and physical distractions to break the tension. Even though it can be uncomfortable for both parents and teens, it’s important discuss the big issues (drugs, sex, peer pressure, bullying, depression etc.) regularly. Jump in boldly, even if it’s primarily a one-sided discussion. Be sure to allow for long periods of uncomfortable silence. Sometimes that’s what it takes to leave room for boys to talk.