(Ingrid’s Note: Yup, it’s April. But I’ve still got three fabulous Dystropian posts to bring you. So it’s now April Dystropian Madness! )
Making Peace with the Adolescent Pre-Frontal Cortex: Crafting Teen Characters with Respect and Authenticity
Part 1: Teen Traits (1 through 4)
By Jessica Denhart
As writers of young adult literature, many of us are in an interesting position of no longer being a teenager. We don’t understand what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world. We’re not cool anymore, we don’t get it…
How can we write about teenagers and get it right, especially now that most of us are no longer on the inside? We can rely on memories. Memories fade and change over time. So I chose to research the psychology of the teenage brain, because that’s where the way we think and feel starts, in our brains.
We were all teenagers at one time. If we try, we can remember what it felt like to have been there, in the thick of adolescence and all of its turmoil.
In my research I discovered that the teenaged brain is still changing, developing and hardwiring. There are so many changes going on in the adolescent brain that often, like an electrical connection that is breaking down, the brain cuts in and out on a teenager at critical times.
1. Spotty Memory
A teenager may have trouble with their memory when it comes to lists of things to do, or directions given to them by their parents or teachers. It can also relate to the ability to remember what to do for homework. What seems like lack of attention or inability to focus is something that can be specifically traced to the, as yet unfinished, wiring of the parietal lobes.
2. Poor impulse control
Teenagers may not be able to hold their emotions in check and scream at or hit someone in an overreaction to a minor incident. They may say whatever comes to their mind first, even if it’s cruel or blunt. They may do something risky due to a lack of impulse control.
3. The overwhelming desire to do new and exciting things.
Teenagers may do crazy things, like diving off of cliffs into water 75 feet below as one of my friends did (and still does). Some drive incredibly fast, which is something that I heard over and over again from friends. Some love the thrill of video games; others enjoy a good scare through ghost stories and scary movies. Some teenagers sneak out of the house to do forbidden activities, like tromping through a graveyard in the middle of the night. Some drink and experiment with smoking and drugs.
4. Teenagers want to spend less time with their family and more time with their friends.
You may recall this part of your own teen years. I remember this time in my life. I didn’t really fight with my parents much. My rebellion against them wasn’t so overt. It was more subtle. It was a slow moving away from caring about their input in my life and spending more time with friends, caring more what they thought. This is very common in the teen years and is a direct result of brain chemistry. The neural hormone, oxytocin is prevalent in the teenage brain making social interactions more desirable. Basically, teenagers want to hang out with their friends and avoid their uncool parents.
Coming up next – Part 2: Teen Traits (5 through 8).
Jessica Denhart has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a proud Dystropian. She writes Young Adult fiction and middle-grade, which varies from contemporary, to magical realism and “near-future quasi-dystopian”. When she was little she sometimes wanted to be a nurse or a fireman, but always wanted to be a writer. She ran away once, packing a basket full of her favorite books. She throws pottery, loves to crochet, and enjoys cooking and baking. Jessica lives in Central Illinois.
Follow Jessica on Twitter: @jessdenhart
 Dobbs, David. “Beautiful Teenage Brains.” National Geographic Oct. 2011:
36-59. Print. (55)
This article was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Series.