The 13-Year Old Mind

Teen girls brains are under maintenance like cogs in an engine

Thirteen years ago today, I had a baby girl. And WOW, did that happen fast!

As we prep for her birthday dinner tonight, I've been wondering all day: what do we have in store for us now that she is an official teenager? What is going on inside the mind of a 13-year old girl?

So, I put my investigative journalist hat on and did some research on the 13-year old brain. Here’s what I found so far:

  • Your Teen is NOT Crazy. Her Brain is Just Remodeling. Is your daughter irrational at times, but then will seem more mature the next day? Or crazy emotional? What is going on? At age 13, the brain is undergoing MASSIVE changes. You probably know that their pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) is officially under construction. Since they can't access the pre-frontal cortex like they used to, teenagers, like toddlers, live more in their amygdala (the brain’s alert center or limbic system), which explains why they are more emotional and reactive. In fact, teens have a hyperactive amygdala “that generates many danger false alarms,” according to neuroscientist, Dr. Marwa Azab. I try to imagine my daughter’s brain as our house when we remodeled, which helps me be empathetic when she is irrational (well, sometimes anyways). Dr. Azab goes on to say, ”if teens don’t develop strategies to manage their emotions, they cannot learn at school.” This is where parents can help coach their daughters in how to manage their emotions.
  • Specialization of the Brain Occurs. As their brains undergo this remodeling process, pruning happens. Do you remember the brain workers from the Disney movie Inside Out who were removing skills from Riley’s brain? “Take everything but the Chopsticks,” was said in regards to pruning away her piano skills. So the brain prunes away what it doesn’t actively use to make space for specialization. When it comes to interests and activities, adolescents have to use it or lose it to pruning. Thinking about how your teen spends her time is crucial to her brain development.

To help you navigate this stage of your daughter's development we created a simple workbook to help you coach her plus a daily gratitude journal, feelings journal and a list of emotions to help her name her feelings to equip her to be a kind, strong and confident girl. 


Lastly, I want to leave you with a very informative video on “The Adolescent Brain” by Daniel Siegel, M.D., author of The Whole-Brain Child and Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. Siegel shows us some ways that we can help support their brains as they remodel. I’ll be looking into the Mindsight exercises to find out more about them to share with you. This video gives me hope to tackle these teen years!

There's more for probably a few additional posts, so stay tuned.






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