Brain Changes are Normal for Adolescent Girls

This piece is from the January-February issue of New Moon Girls magazine. The art is by Roxi, 13, England, a member of nmgmembers.com

I really related to the character of 11-year-old Riley in the film “Inside Out.” I moved to a new town when I was 10, and after that my life felt much more complicated and hard. I loved how the movie shows how feelings affect our thoughts and actions.

How about you? Have you ever felt that life was tougher and your feelings were all over the place when you had a big change? Anything that happens when you’re a tween or teen can give you those kinds of feelings. Maybe it’s having a new baby in your family, or a new school you go to, or your parents decide to get divorced.

The reason those kinds of things feel tougher and confusing during puberty and adolescence is because our brains go through huge changes in those 10 years. It turns out that the changes in my brain were actually a lot more important to how I felt than my family’s move was.

Really?! Here’s why. Humongous changes in your brain start at puberty because of the much higher level of the hormone estrogen your body has then. While the changes in your body only take two to three years, your brain keeps changing until your early 20s.

Your brain begins to work in new ways. That plus your new experiences, friendships, and learning can change your feelings and your understanding of people and life. These changes are how you grow into an adult who will be able to live on your own and make good decisions.

That’s one of the best things about the changes. There are also hard things you’ll need to adjust to. Knowing how your brain changes will help you understand yourself and what you can do to help yourself and your friends through the hard things.

One especially difficult change is starting to feel like friends, and even people you don’t know, are judging you. Younger girls don’t have that feeling as often. They usually feel confident about themselves and think the world appreciates them for who they are. They know what they want and are able to ask for it. They see things from their own point of view, kind of like they are at the center of everything.

That changes in adolescence because all the different parts of our brain start to connect with all the other parts much more. This is a good thing in the long run! We start to see the world through other people’s perspectives as well as our own. This has good results such as more empathy and more rational thinking when we try to feel and understand what life is like “in another person’s shoes.”

But it can also make girls lose touch with their own sense of who they are for a few years. This happened to me when I was in middle school and everything felt topsy turvy. I got hyper-sensitive to what my peers thought of me. I wanted to never make any mistakes. I felt like the real me wasn’t enough. I lost my view of the world from inside out, from my center, and tried to change myself from the outside in, to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. I stopped saying what I wanted and even stopped knowing what I wanted until I was about 16.

It was painful for me. It’s why I started NMG, so girls have friends and a place for support and to keep knowing and being who they are from the inside out.

Nancy

P.S. Get many more resources at NewMoon.com to help you keep a close relationship with your daughter during her turbulent tween and early teen years. And The Owner’s Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain by JoAnn Deak, PhD and Terrance Deak, PhD is written for tweens and teens and makes a great read for parents, too. It’ll give you lots of supportive ways to talk about the changes with your girl, and will help you accept the changes, too!


Originally published at newmoon.com on December 31, 2015.