Why teenagers behave the way they do

They are temperamental – can change from overexcited to glum in a moment, only to relapse into the zing again. They are reckless – can go to any extent to chase a high or belong to a clique, only to wonder later why they did so. They are cocky, they are messy, they are bratty, they are aloof, they are cranky, they are loopy, they are clumsy, they are lazy, they are nasty, they are… teenagers!

Adolescent behavior is such a complicated riddle. At homes and at schools, at colleges and at clubs – we are all left guessing which way they will turn out today. Parents, teachers and guardians – all grapple with questions regarding why they behave the way they do! Still it is a pity that hardly anyone cares to turn to science to get the clues to this riddle. Well, before we discuss further, watch this video to get the gist of the matter…

You heard it right! As grown-ups, we can’t criticize a behavior without knowing what goes behind it. Behind every behavior, there are age-specific ‘physiological and psychological’ reasons at work. The understanding of these reasons is important for mature behavior. Yes, the brains of adolescents have their own idiosyncratic reality, to understand which, we have to get into some details of neuroscience.

If we will look at our brain then we will find that reward-seeking impulse comes from two deep areas of the brain – Nucleus Accumbens and VTA (Ventral Tegmental Area), because that’s where the reward-chemical dopamine gets secreted from. On the other hand, in our brain, the task of impulse control and applying foresightedness is done by PFC i.e. prefrontal cortex; and task of detecting mistakes is done by ACC i.e. Anterior Cingulate Cortex.

Now, the ‘release of’ and ‘response to’ dopamine is enhanced in teen brain, i.e. teen brain gets more ‘sense of reward’ compared to an adult brain. On the other hand, in the teen brain, the parts – PFC and ACC – and their connections with rest of the brain haven’t got developed completely. So, increased impulse blended with weaker regulation! This is what leads to failure in foreseeing consequences of actions, and tendency to indulge in risky and futile behavior.

Now when it comes to sleep-pattern, Melatonin, a hormone that plays a critical role in sleep, gets released in teen brain two hours later in comparison to adult brain, and stays in teenagers’ biological system till late next morning. That’s what causes messed-up sleep behavior in teenagers. If parents, teachers and guardians will not understand the changes taking place in the brain of teenagers then they will never be able to deal aptly with them.

Now, here one should remember that brain is an explanation of these behaviors, and not excuse for them. But it is equally important to understand that there are still better ways to deal with teen behavior than being unaware & critical. To appreciate this fact, social & emotional intelligence is needed. This ‘emotional & social intelligence’ is neuropsychological skill that aids managing self and connecting with others. It is at the base of all intrapersonal & interpersonal skills; and can be learnt, practiced and mastered. And it begins with realizations like…“You can’t criticize a behavior without knowing what goes behind it”.


Dr. Sandeep Atre

‘Emotional & Social Intelligence’ Expert

Founder – Socialigence

Note: Socialigence (www.socialigence.net) offers self-paced video-based online course on ‘Social & Emotional Intelligence’ with content that has relevance across the globe, and delivery specifically customized according to the work-scenarios in India.