Hormones, Beer… or Biology? Those darn teens are at it again!

I remember it as if it was yesterday:

‘The grass looked a little blurry from that height… (that and the fact that I was tipsy from the large amounts of alcohol I had consumed!)

I remember having 2nd thoughts about the whole situation and turned to get back in the window, but Haley was still waiting there with the flour in her hand and given my values and belief-system, no-one was going to mess with my hair! This was a sacrifice I was willing to make!

Besides it was too late now, a crowd had gathered below the window, saluting me with their glasses of alcohol and bottles of beer in hand… and by now cheering, “Westley, Westley, Westley!!!”

I was a hero!!!

I had fans, I couldn’t possibly let them down! Besides, now that they saw me, if I didn’t go through with it… they would call me ‘Chicken!’ and every young adolescent knows there is nothing worse than being branded ‘yellow… a coward… a (god forbid,) cHiCkEn!!!’

Ai jai jai! I was 17 years old back then and attending a friend of my sister’s Bday party. Believe it or not, this entire scenario started with me flirting with Haley, a gorgeous friend of my sister’s, and as a result her wanting to repay me for messing with her and so deciding justice would be best served in the form of smearing baking flour with her hands in my rugged long, mane of hair (which, I might add, had taken me almost 3 years to grow ! [okay, okay… maybe I did have my identity a bit tied up in my hair back then… but heck man, so did Samson Hahaha]) Yip that’s right… I jumped out of a 2nd story window with nothing but a horse-riding helmet to break my fall, because a girl half my height was trying to smear flour in my hair!

Talk about an emotional ball of hormones huh? (or was it?)

Now chances are that if you are, at the time of this reading about 23 years or older, you are asking yourself, ‘Man what is up with this wierdo? It was only your hair bro?’ and that is true!

On the other hand, if you happen to be about 23 years or younger (or your prefrontal cortex has not quite fully developed, like some 40 year adults I know [Hahaha])… then chances are phrases like “Rock on amigo!”, “Insane!” or even “What a Legend!” may come to mind!

Aahhhh to be a teen again!

Honestly, looking back on my teen years… I am flippen amazed that I have lived this long to tell my story. I remember many times when I should have been dead!

It’s wierd for us adults, because we look back on our teenage years with fondness and say things like ‘Ahh, the good-old days’ or ‘what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back to school! No responsibility, sleep all day and paRTY!!!!’

We forget however how emotionally challenging those years were for us, as they are for any teen between the ages of 11 and about 23 trying to forge their own identity and find their place in this world.

I remember sitting at the front of the bus (as all newbie grade 8’s had to do,) and glancing with admiration and fondness at the grade 12 men and the gorgeous grade 12 women sitting in the popular ‘cool seat’ at the back of the bus and thinking… ‘one day when I am fully grown up, I will be like them!’

The fact is, as anybody who has passed through the rite of passage that is known as your teen years will know, that when you get to be 18 years old and about to graduate high school like those grade 12 men and women I so fondly idolised from the front of the bus as a grade 8 teen…

…you do not feel any more the wiser, any more experienced or any more grown up!

The fact is that we are quick to blame hormones for the issues and the problems that teens face today, however the new field of neuroscience and the study of neuro-plasticity would actually suggest otherwise! Now its not important that you have an in-depth understanding of neuro science or know what neuro-plasticity is, it’s sufficient to know that in times past… all psychological theories and treatments were done based on, for lack of a better word, ‘guessing’ and then testing drugs on the brain based on those theories and observing the results.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the masters of old like Freud and Maslow deserve huge applause and commendation for their work. But they lived almost 40 years ago and living in the world of today where 80% of our Western-worlds immediate needs are met; science and technology contradicts, disproves or renders much of what they held to be true,  irrelevant (but that is another whole can of worms best left for another discussion.)

These days with the technology available, science has taken an exponential leap out of the dark ages whereby we actually take a look at the organ we are treating! Yes, that is correct, until as recently as 5 years ago, if you were exhibiting any unusual behavior a person would consult a practicing clinical psychologist and a long discussion based on how you were ‘feeling’ was done and then based on your description or another’s description of your behaviour, the psychologist would consult the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorder) and prescribe meds without even taking a close look at the brain! Imagine a Doctor asking you if the elbow you had fallen on ‘felt’ like it was broken and then prescribed treatment without actually taking an X-Ray huh? Anyway, I digress!

(Chances are however, if you were an average, typical adolescent… you never ended up at a psychologist because you weren’t deemed psychotic… just hormonal and were dealt with accordingly… [read grounded! Hahahaa])

Today, with a new understanding of the brain thanks to technology where we can actually look at, scan and measure brain activity, we understand that a typical adolescent’s brain is busy with what could be the most important process of neuro-development of their entire life… now known as the 2nd phase of neuroplasticity or the ‘Use it or Lose it’ stage of development. This is where their brain is busy with myelination (the process of secreting a fatty substance in order to coat the established neuropathways in order to increase the speed at which signals in the brain are processed.) This increase of white matter (Myelin) is accompanied by an intense pruning of neuro pathways which have not been used enough and therefore not established properly. Hence the coined phrase ‘the Use it or Lose it’ stage of adolescent neuro-development!

During this critical stage, all thought processing and decision-making is gradually migrating from being overseen by the more primitive limbic system of the brain, via a process of frontalisation, to eventually at about age 23/24, being fully overseen by the prefrontal cortex, the part of the Cerebrum brain found just behind the forehead, charged with determining right from wrong, organizing thoughts and problem solving, foreseeing and weighing consequences of behaviour, modulating intense emotions, impulse control and delaying gratification and what could be called ‘exercising good judgement’.

Now any parent, teacher or adult privileged enough to be in the close vicinity of the adolescent while this change is happening might no doubt be heard saying things like, “I don’t know what happened, Johnny went from being a normal, nice kid who enjoyed chatting and socializing with us to being cold, anti-social and very destructive and moody… almost overnight!”

In fact when we look at the stats and latest research regarding teens and this proclivity for bad judgement and risky behaviour it is frightening:

    • Mortality rates for 15 – 24 year olds are more than triple the mortality rates of grade school children!
    • Injury and violence is the leading cause of death in adolescent’s age 10 – 24 years of age. Adolescent deaths are most often a result of motor vehicle crashes 30%; homicides 15%, and suicide 12%.
    • Alcohol and drug use is a factor in approximately 41% of deaths related to motor vehicle crashes. More youth in the U.S. use alcohol than tobacco or drugs.
    • Risky sexual behaviors – almost half of the 19 million new sexually transmitted infections diagnosed each year in the U.S. are adolescents 15 – 24 years old. Thirty-nine percent of sexually active high school students report not using a condom during their last sexual intercourse.
( “Understanding Adolescent Risk Taking – Accessed 25/05/2012 – http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/adolescent_brain/risk_taking/index.html )

However, when we understand that this process of ‘frontalization’ in the brain is the reason for the so-called ‘hormonal’ behaviour and not hormones, we as adults can actually place ourself in the right position to deal with and support our beloved teens.

It’s important to note that prior to frontalization, all executive functions of decision-making was made by the limbic system which is the ‘sensing/feeling’ centre of our brain and also the center of our values and emotions. This so-called re-wiring of the entire brain to the prefrontal cortex REQUIRES the adolescent to now start questioning and testing everything they believe and yes, even challenging the things you believe, in order to form for themselves the capacity to reason and exercise good judgement. If they do not question or test it for themselves and activate that pattern of thinking establishing what they believe to be true… they lose the ability to exercise judgement concerning that thing as a result.

This, combined with the other internal changes such as puberty, attraction to the opposite sex or their need to establish their identity and a place in the world for themselves as well as the external influences such as peer-pressure, smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex; is enough to pose quite a challenge for any teen, (we need only think back to our adolescent years to be reminded of how cruel their world can be.) This role of experience and questioning the norm is critical in developing the neural connectivity that allows for conscious cognitive control of the emotions and passions of adolescence. The fact is that teens who take risks in relatively safe situations exercise the circuitry and develop the skills to “put on the brakes” in more dangerous situations

The point being this champions; this is so much more than just ‘hormones’. Yes hormones may play a small part, but your teen is undergoing a metamorphosis of sort within their brain and it is our jobs as adults and those people charged with their well-being to take action with their interests at heart… not against them and their ‘rebellious’ ways!

The facts are out! If we are going to assume the responsibility of looking after youth (whether a parent, a teacher or youth worker,)  we need to understand that risk taking and testing boundaries is part and parcel of healthy adolescent development and if we do not take an active part within our teens lives, creating safe situations and environments where they can risk and succeed or even better; fail and get back up and try again, (this includes disciplining them in a responsible, loving way.) They may go out there and try to discover the boundaries or create them themselves and without their prefrontal cortex fully functioning and probably drowned in beer… chances are it will be way more creative and won’t be as safe or controlled as any we would have facilitated.

Moral of the story, your adolescent teen needs to risk and challenge, but even more than that, your teen needs you (during these years!) Even if this means just being present, in the background, loving them unconditionally and asking what they think without judgement every now and again.

(Just a thought; Being present as a parent does not mean working 6 days a week and leaving the teacher or the babysitter or nanny to raise your kids!)

If not they might try something stupid… like jumping out of a second story window under the influence of alcohol with nothing but a horse riding helmet to break their fall!!! 🙂 Hahaha

Your fellow heroes and friends…

Wez & Estela Sorgente


Cell: (+52) 624 159-0477

About Endunamoö Coaching

Westley and Estela are an incredible husband and wife team committed to maximizing adolescent's, aged between 15 and 25's potential by emparting authentic life in such a way that they come fully A!ive! They are both founding members of the John Maxwell Coaching Company and co-owners of Endunamoö Youth, an internationaly recognised youth coaching and leadership training company committed to inside to out transformation within their champions. Wez, a youth leadership and behavioral specialist as well as an outdoor enthusiast and Estela any young women's champion, have joined forces to produce a youth company specializing in life to the fullest! Their outgoing and friendly personalities, commitment to integrity and transparency and dedication to leading themselves first and then others, has earned them the right to share with, speak to and empower 100's of individual's to a better life and help your young champions become everything they are destined to be! Should you want further info or their services, mail them at leadership@endunamoocoaching.com or contact them on ( +27) 079 765-9619
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