Summer Break For the Teen Brain

May 14, 2018

It’s May, nice weather is finally here, and some of you are thinking about what your teenager will do when school gets out. We’ve got somebody who can help.

Frances Jensen is the chair of the neurology department at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.

She explains that the teenage brain is like “a Ferrari without brakes.” That presents both challenges and opportunities, and summer vacation is a great time to take advantage. Jensen says the teenage brains needs test drives, and that summer is a great time to do that because you don't have the rigidity and pressure of the school year.

Teenagers can build synapses in the brain really quickly, so summer is the time to challenge those brain cells. Adults can help the process  having teenagers try to acknowledge their weaknesses, and to try to correct them and compensate for them. Summer, however, is also a time to hone strengths. Adults can help by noticing when a teenager is good at something, and perform “frontal lobe assists,” by helping the child balance trying to correct their weaknesses while also working on what they're already good at. 

Summer also offers teenagers the opportunity for trial and error, something that’s not as easy to do during the year when school is in session. Jensen suggests giving teenagers a situation where they are accountable, and to “push the envelope a little bit, in a safe way,” and see if that child can maintain responsibility. If they don’t, that's fine, they will learn from it.

An overarching parenting tip, the act of being a role model, applies here too according to Jensen. You can teach them how to be an adult by having a conversation with them about their summer. If you can discuss what their goals are, and help them figure out their priorities in life, you’re helping the teenage brain grow, mature, and gain the skills necessary for daily critical thinking. 

"Teenagers are not adults with fewer miles on them. We have to remember that," said Jensen.