How Are Teen Brains Different From Adults?

by Jul 19, 20230 comments

Think about the things that you cared about when you were a teenager. Maybe it was school, extracurricular activities, your local sports team, or a crush that you had.

Some of the things that you cared about when you were a teenager may be things that you still care about today as an adult. For the most part, though, a lot of your interests have probably changed.

You’ve grown up. It makes sense that your hobbies and interests have grown with you. Your body and brain go through a lot of changes throughout your lifetime. A lot of the big changes when you grow from a teenager to an adult.

Let’s learn more about how teen brains are different from adults.


Teenagers and hormones go hand in hand. It’s no wonder that a big difference between an adult’s brain and a teenager’s brain is hormone related. Since teen brains aren’t fully developed yet, they’re more likely to be more impulsive compared to adults.

During puberty, this impulsiveness becomes supercharged in a way that can cause teens to increase their risk-taking behavior even further. Some of the impulsive and unpredictable actions of teenagers may be a result of all of the hormones.


You may notice that teenagers want to spend more time in bed, especially when compared to adults. They may go to bed later and then sleep in, even to mid-day. Adults, on the other hand, tend to go to bed at a reasonable time and start their days early to tend to housework, family matters, their own personal life, and their careers.

Teenagers actually require more sleep compared to adults. Brain development occurs when teenagers sleep, so sleep is essential for teenagers.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps to make rational decisions. Neurons in this part of the brain connect and communicate with neurons in other parts of the brain in order to help make decisions. They work together the weigh out the pros and cons of each and every decision.

The development of the prefrontal cortex starts with puberty and doesn’t finish developing until someone reaches their mid-20s. In addition to not being fully developed yet, the neurons in a teenager’s prefrontal cortex are covered in a myelin sheath. This myelin sheath insulation can work to increase the speed of information, even making it up to one hundred times faster.

The Amydgala

The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions. Since the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala aren’t linked properly in a teenager’s brain, teenagers may have a more difficult time processing their own emotions.

One of the areas of a teen’s brain that form early on is the nucleus accumbens. This is better known as the pleasure and reward zone. Emotions and impulsivity go hand in hand, which can lead to a teenager becoming more of a risk-taker and falling into peer pressure. This portion of the brain may be partially responsible for teens acting up and trying drugs and alcohol.

Next Steps

The brain is constantly developing from the time someone is born into their mid-20s. Teenage brains may be developed more fully compared to when they were a child, but aren’t fully developed until around college. In fact, teenage years are incredibly important for brain development.

With time, a teenager will show signs of progress in their development. If you’re having a hard time understanding your teen or if they’re struggling with this life stage, you’re not alone. Working with a licensed and trained mental health professional may be exactly what you need. Reach out to us today to set up a therapy appointment.

Click here for more information on depression therapy or anxiety therapy for teens