Ten facts about the teenage brain

11th July 2016

Ten facts about the teenage brain

Ten facts about the teenage brain

Coralyn Bradshaw Co-founder of ELT-Consultants

As teachers, trainers, researchers and educators in the field of ELT, can we really afford NOT to understand some of the fundamental basics that neuro-science is revealing about adolescent brain development? Here are ten scientifically proven facts that could help us to pause, reflect and react appropriately when working with teenagers:

1. The human brain does not develop fully in girls until about age 20, in boys, as late as 24. Implication: Don’t expect teenagers to be mini-adults.

2. The last part of the brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex, which it controls impulses, organization, moral reasoning, emotional stability, concentration and prioritizing. Implication: Understand that risk taking and bowing to peer pressure is second nature to teenagers.

3. Adolescents often do not fully process cause & effect. This is another skill orchestrated within the pre-frontal cortex. Hence they really do not know why they just did something stupid or why they got in trouble for it. Implication: Understanding is a powerful tool.

4. Adolescents need 9-13 hours of sleep daily to concentrate, metabolize sugar and retain information effectively.Implication: High school schedules are not user friendly.

5. Chaotic, unpredictable and cluttered environments are detrimental to student learning; routines, organization and clear expectations are beneficial. Implication: Teachers need to lead by example and be role models.

6. When teenagers act out or zone out, it is an involuntary response to stress or boredom. Implication: Lessons need to be relevant and stimulating.

7. Adolescents can misinterpret instructions and emotions up to 40% of the time. Implication: Be clear in your expectations and explicitly model, explain and give feedback to teenagers in class.

8. Optimal brain engagement occurs when there is a positive emotional connection between student and teacher-relationship in the learning environment. Implication: Empathy is a powerful tool.

9. Information is only stored in short-term memory for about 20 minutes. When information is connected to prior knowledge and emotion, it can be more readily stored in long-term memory. Implication: Recycle and make learning memorable.

10. Developing brains need learning breaks to reset their attention span mechanism. Implication: Engage students regularly in reflective strategies such as retelling what was just learned with a partner, incorporate plenty of activities which involve physical movement and include brain gym energisers. (

To summarise: Knowledge is power! The more we understand about what is driving teenage behaviour, the better educators we become.

Recommended Resources:  The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development: Johns Hopkins University, 2009) Clea McNeely and Jayne Blanchard. Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.) Sheryl Feinstein.

Back to news