Teaching the Way of Love (TWL) is a program for Catholic parents that encourages and empowers them to embrace their role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the areas of moral and personal development.

Quick Facts about Adolescence

"…conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed”. Therefore, the formation of conscience requires being enlightened about the truth and God’s plan and must not be confused with a vague subjective feeling or with personal opinion"
Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality #95.

The brain is one of the most intriguing parts of the human person. This amazing organ consists of several lobes and structures that have specialized functions. Collectively, the brain, which we also refer to as our mind, contains what is learned and valued, what is felt and preferred, what is feared and remembered. Physiologically, it is the center of one’s human potential.

Before magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, most scientists believed that the human brain reached maturity before puberty. It was widely believed that the brain was ready for adult thinking and reasoning before the teen years started. However, after MRIs made brain scans possible, scientists had to admit that their original assumption was totally incorrect. Images of the teen brain clearly revealed that adult reasoning happened after the age of twenty.

Here is what researchers discovered. The brain develops progressively from the back to the front. During infancy, the lobes at the back gather the information collected through the eyes, ears, touch and smell. This sensory input sculpts how the brain will function. As the infant becomes a child, the lobes sort the information that comes from the senses and categorizes it, sending it to specific locations in the brain. For example, language skills are processed in the left brain and movement is governed by the part of the brain just above the spine. As the teen years approach, the front of the brain, which is the responsible for skilled movements, mood, planning for the future, setting goals and judgment, finally starts its maturation.

The major brain activity for an adolescent is the completion of the circuitry that connects all of the lobes to the frontal cortex. This delicate and complex rewiring of the brain determines the capacity for thinking and decision making in the adult years. The development is slow, taking most of the teenage years to complete. What does all of this mean? Practically, the brain inside of a teen’s skull is not fully functional and should be treated as such.

This may seem unsettling and cause a parent to question God’s design for human maturity. Why would the Almighty pair such important brain development with the changes that come during puberty? It seems almost comical that the brain is designed to mature under the influence of reproductive hormones. Despite this skepticism, God’s plan for human growth and development is meant to follow this basic process.

It is difficult to understand the mystery of God and his hand in human development. As we mentioned in an earlier segment in this series, human maturity includes much more than the body looking and functioning as an adult. And, it is much more than the mind becoming capable of adult reasoning. Human maturity is about the total and absolute combination of one’s body with one’s mind. And, as the body and mind are united, it is essential that the spirit of God is also integrated into the person.

God created human persons so that the body, mind and spirit work together. The development of the brain is crucial to the success of this integration. That is why parents need to pay particular attention to the gradual development and changes that happen during the teen years. Let’s look at some practical ways that parents can both smooth the path of adolescence and cope with the confusion that comes with it.


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