By Kevork KURDOGHLIAN
Crescenta Valley High School’s library was the site of the first of four talks about teen trials and tribulations hosted by CV Alliance, formerly the Crescenta Valley Drug & Alcohol Coalition, a community organization that works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, especially in teenagers, in the Crescenta Valley.
On Jan. 23, Dr. Tina Givrad, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California, spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 parents and teenagers about the “hardwiring of the teenage brain.”
She began her presentation with a metaphor, comparing the brain to a computer to demonstrate the importance of brain development during the teenage years.
Like upgrading the hardware of a computer to handle better quality graphics and greater quantities of software and data, brain development during the teen years is the upgrading of the brain so that it can make more and stronger connections between synapses.
Unfortunately for the adults, this upgrade only takes place between the ages of 10 and 25.
“For those of us who didn’t know it at the time, we can re-experience it with our children,” Givrad said to the attending adults.
She also spoke about the “use it or lose it” principle as it relates to teen brain development.
“The part of the brain that is used most during teenage years, those are the parts of the brain that make the connections … those are strengthened and survive,” she said.
Givrad then explained the different parts and functions of the brain as they relate to what parents can do to help their teenagers improve brain development. In particular she emphasized the importance of the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotional responses, hormonal changes and impulsive behaviors.
“The amygdala is the key part of the brain for what our teenagers do,” she said. “Are they alien? No. The amygdala is controlling them.”
In order to help teenagers make better decisions, become better problem solvers, and make better plans for their future, the frontal lobe, particularly the prefrontal cortex, must be fully developed and activated.
“The hardwiring of these cells will make us better decision makers,” said Givrad. “What [teenagers] are learning during the teenage years is going to rescue them during the adult years.”
She recommended that teens practice the skills that will be valuable to them in their future careers. The prefrontal cortex, she said, “ is the part [of the brain] that can make an individual a game changer in the future.”
As an example, Givrad told the story of Capt. Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who performed the miracle on the Hudson and how his flight school training from his teenage years allowed him to focus on the task of landing the plane without panic.
“Bravery,” she said, “is the capacity to bypass the amygdala when it is fully active and make the decision [based] on what the prefrontal cortex tells us.”
Givrad also warned against the excessive playing of violent first person shooter video games for teenagers. Though the gameplay takes place in the virtual world and does not apply to the real world, she said, “It still pairs success and aggression in the brains of a teen.”
Playing these games, she added, “comes at the cost that the synapses in the prefrontal cortex won’t be fed.”
She noted that teens need their parents more than ever before because now the science says so.
She had a parting message for teens.
“The future is yours as well as where you see yourselves in the future,” Givrad said. “This is your golden opportunity.”