I gleaned some insight into teen brain development from an online interview with a neuroscientist at NIMH- PBS Fronline Interview with Jay Giedd

The brain is building gray matter [cell bodies of nerve cells] during the beginning years of life- cells and connections are growing. This changes during puberty- the brain begins to carve away gray matter cells that are not being used. This second phase is likened to pruning. What the brain is using will survive and flourish, and what is not used will be chiseled away- like a sculptor chisels away stone to uncover a form beneath it-

“So if a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going [to] survive.” [If they are saturated with test prep…]

The activities that teens do program their brains. There is a “plasticity” impacted by experience, environment, and what is actively engaged.

Giedd also discusses the cerebellum- a part of the brain located in the back and involved with physical and mental coordination. It is not genetically controlled, “is very susceptible to the environment…[and] it’s a part of the brain that changes most during the teen years.” Physical and mental activity strengthen its development.

This interview made me think of gross standardized testing- and how it is stifling the brain. I’ve been to schools where the principals say, “Everything is testing…our kids need to pass…we devote a semester to test prep.”

Rather than paying attention to how the brain works and how teens could be immersed in inspirational, imaginative, stimulating environments, schools are subjecting students to brain-numbing activities that focus on limited skill sets.

It reminds me of a canned-food drive I participated in during elementary school. I wanted to win the contest. I wanted to collect the most cans. I stood with a group of students in front of a grocery store and collected money- I was sent into the store to buy canned food. I returned with a dozen $.29 cans of tomato juice and excitedly gave them to my group leader. She advised me to buy foods that are substantial- that people could eat.