• Rita Hitching

Friends are Everything

Updated: May 7, 2019

Wondering if you should go to the school dance? Your mom is telling you to go, but you'd rather stay home and play Fortnite or binge watch Netflix? Well, I'm here to tell you that should go, and neuroscience will back me up!

Your teenage brain is glorious - if you didn’t know that already. Neuroscience has shown that the brain goes through critical periods of growth and development - while in the womb, the first year of life, and the early years; right into adulthood. What scientists have more recently discovered is that the brain undergoes a 'secret mission' of change during the period between the ages of 12 to 19 years that is truly unique.

During this 'secret mission' the way your brain matures is primarily by cutting back many of its 100+ billion neurons that you were born with and focusing on increasing the number of connections between synapses (brain cells). The brain makes many connections between its synapses to enable it to send messages between synapses ever more quickly and effectively. This period of the birth of new brain connections (called synaptogenesis) is the brain's way of making ‘lots of new friends’. To put it simply, imagine your brain is like a tree sapling that starts growing with lots and lots of small branches, and ‘grows up’ into a large majestic tree.

Brain Development

The main areas of the brain that undergo a great deal of change during the 'secret mission' in your teenage years are the prefrontal cortex (PFC) - located at the front of the brain), the superior temporal cortex (STC), and the superior temporal sulcus (STS) - both located on the side of the brain towards the front. These areas are strongly associated with social processes. In other words, how you learn to relate to others, become a bigger player in social situations, develop empathy, and a greater understanding of the view points of others. You basically stop behaving like a little kid, and start to think like a grown up.

So what impact do all these brain changes have on you, and your social life? Well, as the brain matures your ‘Theory of Mind’ becomes ever more sophisticated. You can start to better understand other people’s intentions, desires, opinions, and even their beliefs. In other words, that cute guy or girl you have your eye on; you get better at ‘guessing’ if they like you back!

Autism Spectrum

Friends or family members that may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have enormous difficulty with ‘mentalizing’ or putting themselves in other’s shoes. A person with ASD finds it very difficult to understand another person's point of view. Social situations are super hard for ASD kids to understand. So if know or meet someone with ASD or someone that seems a ittle socially ‘awkward' be kind to them - their brain has simply not matured as much as yours.

The areas of the brain associated with learning to make friends, and keep friends requires time to develop. Some teenagers develop these areas faster than others. No different from how some kids, grow taller quicker than others. What science tells us, is that practice makes perfect. So the more social interactions you get involved in, the better you become at being a ‘social animal’.

There are many physical and psychological benefits of being social, and giving yourself the chance to meet other teenagers, and make new friends is something your brain will thank you for. Having friends lowers stress levels, give you a better mood, makes you laugh more, and live longer! Below is list of the many phsical benefits of friendship, from better physical to mental health.

So next time you see a poster for the school dance, and you’re not sure if you should go? Just go! Your brain needs social interactions to help it in its 'secret mission' towards maturity. You never know - the cute guy or girl you have your eye on, might be there too!

#teenage #growth #neuroscience #synapses #neurons #synaptogenesis #brain #prefrontalcortexPFC #superiortemporalcortexSTC #superiortemporalsulcusSTS #socialsituations #empathy #theoryofmind #autismspectrumdisorder #mentalhealth #immunesystem #stress #paintolerance #teenager #brain #nucleusaccumbens #prefrontalcortex #ventralstriatum #brain #vasopressin #cortisol #dopamine #serotonin #arousal #norepinephrine #ventraltegmentalarea #obsessivecompulsivedisorder #schizophrenia #anteriorcingulatecortex #prefrontalcortex #oxytocin #testosterone #amygdala