The Teen Brain: Implications for policy and practice.

The Teen Brain: Implications for policy and practice.

A 30-slide powerpoint presentation outlining the key changes in the brain during the teenage years:

• Why this new knowledge matters;
•  A quick outline of the book “The Teacher and the Teenage Brain”;
• Key changes in the brain at this time;
• Reward processing;
• Risky behaviour;
• Sleep;
• Implications: mental health, education, the police and children’s services.



The Teen Brain: Implications for policy and practice.

Healthy brains for girls and boys

Healthy brains for girls and boys

A 24-slide powerpoint presentation about a healthy brain:

• What is a healthy brain?
• Learning about the brain
• The brain changes during the teenage years
• Comparing yourself with others



The Teen Brain: Implications for policy and practice.

Teenagers and Sleep

Teenagers and Sleep” – A Sleep Webinar for Parents

A 22-slide powerpoint presentation:

Many parents worry whether their sons and daughters are getting enough sleep. We have learnt a lot more about teenagers and sleep in recent years. This presentation looks at:

• The teenage sleep patterns
• What happens for teenagers during sleep
• Interventions
• Good sleep routines
• Sleep in the context of school
• Activities



Parents of teenagers in China

Parents of teenagers in China

In 2021 I was contacted by a parenting organization in Beijing to tell me that they had arranged for my book “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” to be translated into Chinese.  I was delighted, and not a little surprised. They asked if I would like a copy, and before long this indeed arrived through the post.

Following this I then received an email asking if I would be willing to offer them some help with their parenting courses.  I had no idea that such a thing was happening in China, but since it is now possible to work with people in any part of the world without leaving one’s desk, I said yes.

There followed a fascinating period of work with parents of teenagers across China.  The enthusiasm for my input was striking, and of course very rewarding.  Here is an example of one parent’s comments to me:

Thank you for your efforts all the time dear teacher.  In fact, when I study the course and read your book, I also heal myself.  I love my children very much, and I hope they can grow up happier and happier.  So, I am looking forward to seeing what I can do better with your help”.

How can I offer help to parents in such a different culture?   This is a question I have been asked numerous times by colleagues here in the UK.  The remarkable thing is that the majority of the concerns of parents are almost identical to those in Western countries.

Dilly-dallying on homework”

“Do some people’s adolescent traits persist into adulthood?”

“I would like to ask how to cultivate children’s gratefulness?”

“There are lots of worries and anxious of negative peer influence”

“How to limit and monitor screen time?  It seems we compete with the screen to win our children back, but for lots of time, our teenagers choose screen more than us”

So where are the differences?   The most striking fact has to do with the pressure on young people from the education system.  Many questions focused on homework, and how parents can support their young people with the pressures they experience.  Typical questions ran like this:

The school is very intensive.  The teacher put a lot of pressure on the students.  Often using physical punishment, scold students”

“It is difficult to change the environment of intense learning competition.  How can I help my child relieve stress, relax and face it?”

In subsequent discussions with the Chinese facilitators, they told me that academic performance is critical for future job prospects.  Unless students perform well at school, future opportunities are severely limited.  This leads to high levels of anxiety for both parents and young people.

This work has now concluded, although I remain in contact with colleagues in China.  As one put it: “I hope you will be able to use our examples in your next book!”   The most striking conclusion for me has to be the similarity of parental concerns about the teenage years. Whether you are a parent in London or Beijing, you still worry about the changes that take place as children move into the teenage years.

A second conclusion relates to the fact that there is so little support for this group of parents in Asia.  I was struck by the high level of need that was constantly expressed to me.   My book has become a best-seller – to my utter amazement.  That my knowledge about adolescence can be so useful in such a different culture is truly extraordinary.  In the webinars that I ran for parents, we were getting over 1,000 participants.  Remarkable.

All in all, it proved to be a fascinating and rewarding project.  It is clear that, no matter where you live, parents of teenagers struggle to make sense of this stage of life.  If anything can be done to help families across the globe, it is evident that more knowledge about adolescent development could  play a useful part.




Why teach brain development to secondary school pupils?

Why teach brain development to secondary school pupils?

Our knowledge of the changes in the teenage brain is not exactly “new knowledge”.   It is 20 years now since reports of research on the teen brain starting appearing in the media.   However, there is a long way to go before the field of education catches up with these exciting developments. There are many who argue that a collection of brain scans does not help us plan the curriculum, or organize the school day.

This is to misunderstand the value of knowledge about the teenage brain.  In talking to teachers, it becomes clear that, in the main, they see this knowledge as extremely helpful.  They don’t value it for lesson planning, but as a vital tool for helping them to understand their students.

They want to understand why some are drowsy in the morning.  They want to make sense of the emotional melt-downs, and to know why young people develop at such different rates. Why do some mature early, whilst others lag behind?  How can teachers help their students become more mindful of the consequences of their behaviour?

In addition to this there is another important possibility which arises out of our knowledge of the teenage brain.  This is the possibility that we can actually teach young people about their brains, and about the changes that are taking place. Why is this important?

The fact is that most teenagers are puzzled about what is happening to them.  They want to understand why they experience a rapidly shifting kaleidoscope of emotions.  They want to know more about how memory works.  They are keen to understand how best to revise, and how to manage the stress that they all experience.  While we concentrate on teaching them science or history, they would really like to understand themselves better.

Our understanding of the brain has made this possible in a way that was unimaginable 20 years ago.  We now know that the teenage brain undergoes a major restructuring and reorganization during these years. This knowledge provides us with an insight into teenage behaviour.   Such an insight has value not only for adults – parents, teachers and others – but for young people themselves.

In my own experience delivering lessons on the brain to students, as outlined in my book  “The teacher and the teenage brain”, this knowledge is hugely reassuring to young people.  Those in the first years of secondary school tell me they are grateful to learn about this, whilst those in the “A” level years ask: “Why didn’t we have this earlier?  It would have made so much difference!”

In my view this is a matter of a human right.  Young people have the right to know what is happening in their brains.  After all we now take it for granted that we teach young people about puberty.  In years gone by it would have been assumed that this should happen in the family (if at all), but not as part of the school curriculum.   Knowledge of the changing brain is the same. I predict that in twenty or thirty years it will be seen as extraordinary not to be including this topic in the curriculum.

In making this point I should not under-estimate the challenges involved.  We have a long way to go in designing lesson plans for different age groups.  Some initiatives are under way (e.g. Brain Waves in Oxford), but this an exception.  There is also the question of who should teach this topic.  Many teachers are cautious about taking this on as it is seen as a “new” subject.

In spite of all this, I remain convinced that, in time, this will be seen as an accepted part of the curriculum.  Before too long it will be recognized that this knowledge is helpful, not only for teachers, but also that it leads to improved learning among students.  Most importantly, it helps young people understand themselves better, resulting in happier, healthier teenagers.  Who can argue with that goal?