How you can support your teen’s brain growth

By Brandi McCord, LCSW

Advice from Youth First

As parents, we always strive to provide for our kids and guide them in life to be successful individuals. The real question that comes with that thought is, but how can I do that? During adolescence, the brain is growing at a rapid rate. It will continue to grow and mature until the age of 25. When the brain is growing, there are things that can help it grow and develop, and others that may hinder it. As parents, there are things we can do to help our teen’s brain continue to grow, and become healthy and successful. Let’s dive into some of the things we can do as parents to support our teen.

  1. Build a balanced home life. Just like outside sources, the home environment can highly affect a teen’s well-being. As parents, we should be loving and supportive to our kids. This includes being warm and inviting, along with providing rules and instilling moral behaviors.
  2. Provide healthy experiences. Getting teens involved with a range of activities, hobbies or experiences can also provide a great positive effect on brain development. This could include having your teen try out a new sport, having them create some artwork, or even having them join a club at school.
  3. Establish good sleep habits. Did you know that teens need more sleep than children and adults? Yep; you heard that right. Teens typically have levels of the sleeping hormone melatonin increase later in the night and drop early in the morning. That gives us a little clarity regarding why teens want to stay up late and then struggle the next day to get up out of bed. Teens need, on average, 9-10 hours of sleep a night. If there’s more, that’s great! To help your teen, try to stick with a routine to help unwind from the day. Taking electronics, such as the cell phone, out of their room can also help your teen get more sleep. They may not be happy about it; but just remember, it is to help them grow!
  4. Encourage an active lifestyle. Most of us know that exercise provides many benefits. These include health benefits and also to provide us more energy! I think we could always use more of that and so can our teens. You can make this into something to bond with your teen, like taking a family walk, or helping them find hobbies they like, such as playing on a sports team.
  5. Offer healthy options. Brains need nourishment, and this comes from a healthy, balanced diet. Try and help your teen reduce the amount of junk food and increase their intake of healthy foods like fruits and veggies. The nutrients help the brain continue to thrive and develop.
  6. Develop a plan to manage stress. When your brain gets stressed, it becomes difficult to develop appropriately. Work with your teen on developing a plan to keep stress levels at a minimum. It might be helpful for you to find a plan that also works for you! Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and mindfulness, along with healthy outlets like reading and writing, can help keep stress levels from getting out of control.
  7. Protect the brain from injury. Safety and protection are keys for a brain to grow and mature. Encourage the use of seatbelts, and helmet safety, along with discouraging the use of harmful substances (drugs, alcohol, etc.). Teens are always looking for guidance and will look to you to help them. This is a great opportunity to model what you want instilled in them.

Brandi McCord, LCSW, serves as Youth First social worker at St. Joseph School in Princeton, and Washington Catholic Elementary and Middle/High Schools in Washington.