Q: How long does it take for the teen brains to develop fully?
A: Believe or not, the brain is the last organ in the body to mature. In fact, the teen brain is just 80% complete during adolescence. The prefrontal cortex is the part that teaches the rest of the brain how the world works and takes the longest time to develop. By taking its time to grow, the prefrontal cortex stays open to learning and adaptation. By age 25, the brain is completely developed, and most kids are more capable of ‘connecting the dots,’ making plans and resisting impulses.
This is my video about teen brain development for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. When I talk to young people, I often tell them that their brain is a work in progress. Also, that being constantly stressed (or being bullied), being on the screen all the time, drinking alcohol or using drugs early can all effect the developing brain. For example, even one episode of binge drinking can cause subtle changes on MRI images of teen brains. I also remind teens that if they start using drugs and alcohol at early ages ie 14-15 yrs they are more likely to stay addicted. The makers of Juul (e-cigarettes) are certainly aware of this, as they often target younger teens with their products. For more information, see this article for a great summary of what parent, educators and health can do to help nurture teen brains!