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Blame My Brain

Blame My Brain

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Nicola Morgan is a multi-award-winning author and international expert on teenage brains and mental health, and the science of reading for pleasure. A former teacher and dyslexia specialist, Nicola was a prize-winning novelist whose career changed after the success of her best-selling examination of the teenage brain, Blame My Brain. In the first of four posts by teenage brain, wellbeing and learning expert Nicola Morgan, she looks at changes that affect the teenage brain, enabling us to be more aware and help teenagers through these changes.

Morton GJ, et al. 2006. Central nervous system control of food intake and body weight. Nature 443:289–295 It follows, then, that if stored energy (fat) and leptin go up over time, you’ll want to eat less… right? Writing Blame My Brain (full title – Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed) changed my life. I’d been perfectly happy with my career as a teenage novelist, winning awards and engaging with young readers, and then, seemingly out of the blue – except not, as I’d been studying the human brain for ten years already by that stage! – I wrote the first book in the world to explore and explain the teenage brain for young people. The teenage brain differences had only very recently been discovered, notably by Jay Giedd at the NIMH in the US, and I became aware of them early on through reading that new research. And I realised this was of huge interest, reassurance and practical relevance to adolescents themselves. Of course, teenagers are also humans just like the rest of us. Also, of course, they are different from each other: some go through adolescence more easily than others. But the science is strong: a set of experiences, behaviours, chemical and brain changes happen during this period, which are identifiable as natural features of adolescence, despite individual and cultural differences. We accept that certain things happen in brain development, making newborn babies different from toddlers, and toddlers different from nine year olds; similarly, development in adolescence, usually starting between 10 and 12, sees the brain mature into a state in which independence can eventually happen. It’s a good thing! A perfect example occurred to me this week during a modern language class. I explained complicated grammar to a group of 15-year-old students. They were not overly pleased, of course, and moaned and complained about it. All of a sudden, one student understood the structure of the sentence we were going through, and could apply his knowledge to any other sentence in the workbook. He was incredibly pleased with himself, and bragged about it happily, as teenagers do. He also made a point of telling me how good it felt, and I agreed.This is in part influenced by satiation — the perception of fullness you get during a meal that causes you to stop eating. Shi H, et al. 2009. Diet-induced obese mice are leptin insufficient after weight reduction. Obesity (Silver Spring) 17:1702–1709 I have an unusually logical teen, who struggles to understand more emotional peers. A friend also has a teen girl, recommended Blame My Brain & my teen is enjoying it, but wants to know why others can’t suppress their amygdala dominance?? Development of the Social Brain in Adolescence” by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3308644/ Teen girls have different brains: Gender, neuroscience and the truth about adolescence” – https://www.salon.com/2015/01/03/teen_girls_have_different_brains_gender_neuroscience_and_the_truth_about_adolescence/

The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) doesn’t finish developing until mid to late 20s. This “control centre” is necessary for activities such as:

But some foods aren’t just palatable — they’re extremely palatable. They’re what you might call “too good”. Anything that you “just can’t stop eating” would fall into this category. Reward value Adolescent brain changes start around 11, first with major increases in numbers of neural connections, and girls typically reaching each stage before boys. The second stage follows, with major loss or “pruning” of connections, leaving stronger networks. The third stage, usually starting around age 15/16, is “myelination”, when fatty myelin coats neural pathways, helping messages pass efficiently.

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