The brain is responsible for a wide range of behaviors and experiences throughout adolescence – both positive and negative. During the teen years, structural and functional changes in the brain may contribute to many negative characteristics such as:
- difficulty planning
- organizing and setting priorities
- inability to foresee consequences
- difficulty postponing gratification
- poor impulse control
- heightened emotional reactions and mood swings
- exaggerated “black and white” thinking
- difficulty interpreting or responding to social situations and challenges
- high risk-taking behavior—and paradoxically—a fear of new situations and people
- and difficulty gauging what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing
These are all common problems associated with the developing TEENAGE BRAIN.
These behaviors and experiences are related to a still developing and critically important area of the brain called the frontal lobes—particularly the prefrontal cortex (PFC)—located in the front of the brain just behind the forehead. The frontal lobes are considered the “chief executive” of the brain, responsible for reasoning, judgment, motivation, impulse control, application of effective social skills, and overall coordination of the various subsystems in the brain to solve problems, relate to others, and negotiate one’s way in the world.
The recent developments in brain research have major implications for adolescent development. If teenagers don’t learn and practice effective coping skills at this time, they may have difficulty ever getting them completely in the future. And lack of exposure or practice is not the only threat: drug and alcohol use, media influences, and negative adult and peer role-modeling all have the potential to prevent or distort the development of executive functions and social skills. Kids who use drugs, aggressive confrontation, passive avoidance, or any other ineffective coping skill run the risk of biologically “locking in” that pattern of behavior, making it more difficult to either resist or unlearn these behavioral responses in the future.
One effective way to practice these coping skills is to provide opportunities for teenagers to “think through” problems, considering various alternatives and their likely outcomes. Reasoning out different possibilities can “stretch” the brain (stimulating neural connections), leading to more efficient problem-solving skills. The Sticks and Stones program is designed to enhance these coping skills, raise awareness, and give students the opportunity to practice healthier decision-making and coping skills.