Has Your Teenager Lost Their Mind and Blown Yours?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Today’s episode is a milestone for us here at Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. We have officially reached our 100th episode and we are just thrilled with this new achievement. So before anything else, we just want to say thank you for all your support.    What we’re going to talk about today has something to do with our children, our teenage children to be exact and the reason why we’re doing this is simple, we love them and they are the hope of this nation, they are the future generation.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Hi! I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen.

Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Today we are going to try to answer this one question, "Has your teenager lost their mind?".

Tana Amen: Seems that we get get a lot of questions about this. I mean a big part of our business is based on this concept, and we think that if you really understand some simple things about development, it can really help not only for you to understand what's going on, possibly help you intervene, and help you bond to your teen through these very challenging years.

Dr Daniel Amen: And for those in Psychology or Psychiatry you know that there actually is a task of adolescence which is independence separation.

Tana Amen: A little like two-year olds. Right? They go through it again in their teens.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, they do that, but the task is different. It's about, "Who am I independent of my parents? Can I separate and be okay?", which is why they're often difficult. But as you know what's happening in their brain is wild, it's dramatic, and their brain is not done when they're 12 or 13.

Tana Amen: Well and it's complicated because they have this huge hormonal shift. The hormones are affecting the brain, and the pruning in the brain is affecting the hormones. Right? The brain changes are affecting hormonal shifts as well. So it's complicated. Some of the main hormones that are affecting this during this time are the sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Then there's also-

Dr Daniel Amen: Though guys are only thinking about sex.

Tana Amen: Not only that, they are also, their motivation and drive goes up but not necessarily the motivation for the right things, right? Aggression goes up, so motivation for, yeah, things like sex. Estrogen goes up but with girls, their cycles are widely shifting so unlike boys, they get a steady ... They say that testosterone can go up by ten times during the space of adolescence for boys, so it's obvious but it's more consistent. With girls, what happens is they get this surge of estrogen but it's cyclical, and that's what's dangerous for girls. That's why they're so vulnerable because when that estrogen surges, it affects the availability of serotonin , and that can make girls very very vulnerable to depression and mood swings. More so during that age than other ages.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and it's also worry and getting stuck on negative thoughts and negative behaviors. And so they could get stuck on "I'm too fat ...

Tana Amen: Mm hm. (affirmative)

Dr Daniel Amen: I'm too fat, I'm too fat.

Tana Amen: And they are gaining more weight but they see themselves even worse than it is, so more negatively than what's going on. Oxytocin goes up, so the bonding hormone. That's very interesting. They often look for bonding in the wrong way because of the other hormones, so you have to be very careful with that. Dopamine, something interesting, I want you to talk about this because one of the things I learned, so you've raised three before our current teen, three teens. And now, we're raising our fourth, Chloe, who's a pretty good teen. One thing I love that you say is that there's no rule that teens need to be bad, right? And we're finding that to be true.

Dr Daniel Amen: If you have a troubled teenager, that is not normal. The idea in society is all teenagers are troubled, and that is absolutely not true. There was a study in Chicago where they looked at 10,000 teenagers, and a third of them never had a problem.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Another third, every once in a while, they had a problem.

Tana Amen: Which is sort of normal.

Dr Daniel Amen: And another third, they were problematic. Temper problems, runaway, school problems, drug problems, and what I always think is if your teen is consistently troubled, you need to get them help, because it could indicate they have ADD, they have bipolar disorder, they have a mood disorder, there's OCD, PTSD and addiction. Something that is going on, and that something could also be traumatic brain injury.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Because we know here, so many of the kids we see who have temper problems, mood problems, have had a concussion playing football and cheerleading, gymnastics, falling off of a horse. It could literally change the trajectory of their life.

Tana Amen: I like that, and one of the neurotransmitters that shifts a lot during this age is dopamine, right? They get this big surges of dopamine but their frontal lobes aren't fully developed yet. One of the things that I read, and I'd love for you to clarify this is that teenagers become excitement seeking. They like that dopamine rush. They become excitement seeking but they actually need more stimulation to feel the same thing that adults feel.

They don't have their frontal lobes developed so they can't make really good decisions yet, but their rational brain develops fairly quickly, by their teens is fairly well developed. Their rational brain, meaning, "Do you know right from wrong?". "Yeah, I know right from wrong.", but under pressure, can you make the right decisions. Their emotional brain is not fully developed yet, and so they don't even always know why their not making the right decision, but they don't always make the right decisions under pressure.

Dr Daniel Amen: So I would actually flip that, that their emotional brain is developed and they have this very strong emotions, but their prefrontal cortex focus, forethought, judgment, planning, impulse control, learning from the mistakes you make, is not fully developed until they're 25. So that part of the brain does not finish becoming myelinated. Myelinization is very important process in development, and that is where nerve cells get wrapped with the white fatty substance called myelin. Once the nerve cells become wrapped with myelin, they're much more efficient. They're much more effective. Myelin starts to develop in the back part of your brain when you're about two months old, which is why your vision becomes better. But it doesn't finish in your frontal lobes until you're 25 in girls, and more like 28 in boys. You have this powerful emotional surges without judgment, without forethought, so it's like you get these emotional surges without your brains break.

Tana Amen: So what happens is you ask a teen sitting at the dinner table, so if this happened, you know, if you're in this situation, what's the right thing to do? They'll answer you perfectly because they know what the right thing to do is from a rational standpoint, but when they're put in a situation with their friends under pressure, without supervision, sometimes they don't even know why they're making the wrong decision and later they feel bad about it. They know they made wrong decision, and they're not even exactly sure why.

Dr Daniel Amen: And then if you add on top of that, so their brain is not fully developed, if you then add on top of that, they had a simple carbohydrate meal, which drops blood sugar and blood flow to your frontal lobes, and they only got 6 hour of sleep the night before because they were studying for a test or they were texting their friends at midnight, which is not uncommon now, and they had a glass of beer. You put all of those things together ...

Tana Amen: It's stacking.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's the prescription for disaster, and you know, as parents both you and I, we always talk about when things aren't going the way we hope they would go. To be curious about it and never furious about it because our job is, and this is like the most important thing you're going to hear on this podcast, you're job is for teenagers is to be their frontal lobes until theirs developed. Theirs don't develop until they're mid-20s, and so supervising them, knowing where they're at, who they're with, what they're doing, and checking, I think is one of the most important things you can do because that's why God gave you parents.

Tana Amen: Right, so I think part of it if you know developmentally and emotionally what they're struggling with, it helps you to be a little more empathic and listen better. Were going to do our entire next podcast on what to do for these strategies to help your teen.

There's one more hormone I want to talk about that really affects the way we see things and how thing function, and that's melatonin. This one's a big one because it affects so many things in their lives. Melatonin shifts, the melatonin surge shift during the teen years. A lot of people have this attitude like teens are so annoying because teenagers want to stay up all night, and they want to sleep all day. We think that it's like this cultural choice that they're making. What we now know is that it's because melatonin surges several hours after it normally does during other times in your life, so they're not getting their melatonin surge until later in the night. Then what happens, they don't go to sleep until late, then they get woken up to go to school, which a lot of experts think that school starts too early. They get woken up to go to school-

Dr Daniel Amen: We think that.

Tana Amen: We think that, so they get woken up to go to school while the melatonin is still going on. They're still foggy, hazy and tired. They're making bad decisions early in the morning, they're more likely to get in trouble at that time and also car accidents, which we're going to talk about later as well. There's this whole problem that goes on with the the fact that we have a society designed around what we need to have happen as opposed to what's actually happening in a teenagers brain biologically.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and if you add to that, they're on their computers, they're on their iPads, they're on their phones. Their retina is being flooded with blue light ...

Tana Amen: So they're making it worse

Dr Daniel Amen: ... which suppresses the production of melatonin so it's already naturally shifted later, and then they're going to push it.

Tana Amen: Put it off by another hour or two.

Dr Daniel Amen: Later.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: And so ...

Tana Amen: They get to bed at three sometimes.

Dr Daniel Amen: Putting blue light blockers on your kids' phones, on their computers is really important. Plus, if you can't trust your teenager to have their phone off when it's bedtime, you should take it from them. People go, "Oh, that's so harsh." It's because you love them. These objects are made to be addictive. I actually read a book called Hooked. Companies like Google and Microsoft and Yahoo and all the other ones that are making these devices, Apple, they hire neuroscientist to trigger the addiction centers in your brain. There's actually a new psychological distress syndrome which is called "nomobilephobia" ...

Tana Amen: Oh, that's so funny.

Dr Daniel Amen: Where I can't live without my mobile phone.

Tana Amen: Sorry, I find it rather refreshing when I forget LINE.

Dr Daniel Amen: Which is helpful, right? But because our brains have been addicted to these things, it's the same. It's actually more addictive than sex.

Tana Amen: Than sex, I know.

Dr Daniel Amen: That you have to be cautious because a younger brain is more likely to be addicted than an older brain because the younger brains don't have forethought judgment impulse control.

Tana Amen: Well, it's also how they've learned to communicate. It's our primary form of communication. We grew up having to talk to people on and write, right? They didn't. So let's talk about for a second, we talked about what happens in the brain. Let's talk about some of the challenges during this phase as a result. So some of the effects that happen, believe it or not, during this time in a teenagers life, teens are far more at risk for things like accidental death, homicide, suicide, binge drinking, conflict obviously, depression and addiction. Talk about that.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, no, question that in fact ...

Tana Amen: We see these kids.

Dr Daniel Amen: Many of the major mental illnesses start during adolescence often late adolescence. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression ...

Tana Amen: And definitely addiction, I've seen that in my own family.

Dr Daniel Amen: So we just have to be thoughtful, and get them the help you need. In our book, the Brain Warrior's Way, we talk about it's a war for the health of your brain but also for the brains of your children like never before.

Tana Amen: So the good new is we just probably freaked a lot of you out, explained what is going on but didn't really, you know, got you a little bit scared. This doesn't have to be a scary message. We're going to talk about solutions in the next ones. Well, you've had three teenagers before I even came along, and now we've got our fourth teenager in the house who's amazing. I mean honestly, amazing. Part of it is understanding all of these, knowing what changes are going on, being curious not furious, and having some simple strategies, which we're going to talk about in our next chat. So stay tuned. You now know what's happening, now we're going to give you the tools.

Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.