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Solving the mystery of the teenage brain

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By The Staff

The teenage brain is a mystery to any parent who has a young adult.

Teenagers seem to lose their minds and parents wonder if they ever get them back. The answer rest assured is yes.

On Saturday, the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and UNM-LA in conjunction with partnering agencies will sponsor a symposium on the teenage brain, with two free presentations.

JJAB Coordinator Debbie Gill knows that education is key in this community.

“When we realized we had a budget for a public education event, our first response at JJAB was to maximize the use of the money to bring community wide benefit,” Gill said.

The JJAB along with Family Strengths Network, UNM-LA, LANL, the Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos Public Schools, the Community Health Council and local Public Health Nurse Megan Pfeffer led the charge to organize the free event.

FSN’s Susan Mack heard Abigail Baird speak two years ago, and the seed was planted.

“I had to give Los Alamos an opportunity to hear what she has to offer. Her research is up-to-date and her presentation is engaging,” Mack said.

Mack also credits Gill with being able to make it happen.

“We are very grateful to JJAB for funding the symposium, and to Debbie Gill for all her hard work turning the idea into a reality,” she said. “The symposium would not have happened without Debbie’s efforts and JJAB’s financial support.”

Baird became interested in this area when she was working with young adults, who were suffering from schizophrenia.

“I wanted to understand more about the onset of the disease, which often seems to be sometime in late adolescence. When I looked for research that had examined this time period of brain development, there really was not a lot there,” said Baird.

Baird believes the area of adolescents is very hard to formally study with so much variation between people.

“The lack of information about how adolescents develop inspired me to try to figure it out,” Baird said.

The event, although directed at parents, will provide easy to understand information related to neuroscience and will provide a new perspective on what teenagers are capable of in terms of thinking and problem solving.

“This was a fascinating look into the biology behind the behavior. For example, peer pressure has a neurological manifestation in the brain – different areas of teens’ brains are active when they are making decisions that they feel will influence their social status than when they are making private decisions,” Mack said.

“As parents, the more we know about how kids function, the better,” Gill said.

While the presentation targets parents, it is also meant for educators, councilors, police and others that work with youth.

The Baird presentation will be followed by a second presentation on the effects of substance abuse on the brain by Dr. Mike Weisend and Dr. Sara Feldstein-Ewing of The Mind Research Network.

One purpose of the JJAB is to engage the community in solutions and to galvanize community resources for prevention and immediate intervention, thereby improving the lives of our youth, their chances for success and building a healthier community.

This educational symposium is just one of many ways JJAB works to improve to provide vital information to the community in the area of prevention.

Baird makes an excellent correlation between the teen years and the toddler years and how the need for relationships and communications are part of the solution.

“Adolescence is a period of development as complex as infancy, and our teenagers need our guidance, support and patience in getting through it optimally,” Baird said.

While the topic, or the teenager can become overwhelming for adults, a good dose of humor might be all that is needed to keep going.

“I had one parent approach me after a talk and tell me, ‘I want to thank you for the work you are doing. My 13-year-old daughter heard all about it and now tells me that she could not possibly finish her homework because her frontal lobes are not fully developed yet,” Baird said.

A better understanding on where teens are coming from and what stresses they face may be the best benefit of the educational opportunity this weekend. It just might help you get the best out of those you love during these trying times.

The free presentations will also include refreshments and registration can be done through the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board website at www.losalamosjjab.com.