Be smart, think ahead

Superintendent+Dr.+Martin+Stessman
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Be smart, think ahead

Superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman

Superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman

Superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman

Superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman

Dr. Martin Stessman

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How are you doing? I am a little worried about you. All of you. It has been a long winter, and I know that you are ready for the warm weather that comes with spring. You have been inside all winter, and you are tired of your family and teachers. Your tempers are short. It is prom season. Finals are just around the corner, and the pressure to achieve is high. Graduation is near. You are under a lot of stress, and you are ready to cut loose and have fun.

That is only part of the reason I worry. Here is the rest of the story. As a teenager your brain is still developing and growing, specifically your pre-frontal cortex. Your pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that sits right behind your eyes. In general it regulates your mood, attention, impulse control, and ability to think abstractly — which includes both the ability to plan ahead and predict the consequences of your behavior. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty important part of the brain.

The other part of your brain you should understand is your amygdala. The amygdala is a shaped like a walnut and sits deep in your brain. By now, in most of you, it is fully mature. The amygdala plays a role in emotion, aggression, and instinctive or reflexive responses. Think fight or flight instinct; the amygdala controls that.

So what’s the big deal? Think of it this way. The part of your brain that exercises reason and rational thought is still immature. The part of your brain that produces emotion and impulse is fully mature. See where I am going with this? Neuroscientists believe that a mature pre-frontal cortex regulates the amygdala and puts a break on emotional, aggressive outbursts. The discovery that your pre-frontal cortex is essentially out matched by a mature amygdala helps us understand why you are more emotional and impulsive as a teenager than you will be as an adult.

Now let’s combine what we now know about your brain and what we know about spring. Winter was long. Your tempers are short. Emotionally charged events like prom, finals, and graduation have you all stressed out. And, your brain can’t deal with it. As a result you are prone to do stupid emotional things like fight with your parents, yell at your teachers, blow up at your best friend, drive too fast, or imitate Johnny Knoxville.

Here is what I ask. Be careful. Don’t plan stupidity. Listen to your inner voice when your friends want to do something you think is dangerous or reckless. Try to be smart and think ahead. I know it’s hard. Your brain isn’t cooperating. But please do your best to have fun without risk. And DON’T use this knowledge of brain development as an excuse to be rude to your parents!

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