Teenage Brain Development & Addictions
Recent developments in brain scan research show that teens’ brains are not fully developed until age 25! The prefrontal cortex, develops last, and is important for reasoning and higher executive functions, i.e. areas that determine right and wrong and impulse control… “should I hit my little sister?”, “is God real?”, and “should I steal?” type of brain functioning.
This is why alcohol and drugs in teens are more dangerous in teens than adults. Likewise, addictive behaviors, such as video game addiction and addiction to violent media/gaming, will have huge impact on their brain development.
In this video Dr. Ken C. Winters (Director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at the University of Minnesota) educates viewers on the vulnerability of the adolescent and teen developing brain as well as the detrimental effects of drugs and alcohol (as well as other addictive behaviors).
The above is based on this recent research at the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Notice the areas of the brain that turn blue. This is called pruning. Once a child “prunes” areas of the brain, the neural pathways that are strengthen becomes almost permanent. We see this in disorders like amblyopia, or lazy eye.
The first areas of the brain that prune are the cerebellum (coordination), somatosensory cortex (touch/feel), and occipital cortex (back of the brain that controls vision). Because the occipital cortex is pruned early in the child’s brain development, amblyopia in children is devastating because vision loss may be permanent after the age of 10 or so!
In the digital age, we must be asking what areas of brain development are we forfeiting when parents use digital devices to “babysit” their children hours and hours on end. For teenagers who excessively use video gaming, texting, and other digital devices while the prefrontal cortex is being pruned, their brains may be leaving areas of reasoning and higher executive functions impaired, i.e. “lazy brain syndrome”. I think the lazy brain syndrome we see in teenagers who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and gaming is similar to lazy eye syndrome in kids.
Based on the above research in brain development. We need to be asking:
- Can children really handle 40 hours of gaming a week?
- Can children really handle violent media, 40 hours a week?
- Can children handle violent gaming, 40 hours a week?
- Can children handle excessive hours with their smart phones and texting?
- Can children handle video game addiction?
- Can children handle any addictive behaviors?
40 hours a week may seem excessive, but the average American child is exposed to more than 40 hours a week of screen time weekly based on the Kaiser Foundation Research.
Andrew Doan MD PhD