Book Review: The Power of the Adolescent Brain



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“It appears that the brain changes characteristic of adolescence are among the most dramatic and important to occur during the human life span.” – Laurence Steinberg, “Commentary: A Behavioral Scientist Looks at the Science of Adolescent Brain Development,” in Brain and Cognition magazine

We’ve often heard the phrase that young children’s brains are like sponges. Because of this, we’ve had all sorts of products and strategies targeted to boost children’s brain development. But what about adolescents? Thanks to modern technology and neuroscience, we’ve had more studies and research about the brain’s neuroplasticity – how malleable our brains are regardless of our age and developmental stage in life. With these studies, Thomas Armstrong gives us something to explore: The Power of the Adolescent Brain.

By adulthood, fundamental changes in brain structure and function come to an end, and the window of opportunity closes (He & Crews, 2007). “We never lose it completely,” says neurologist Jay Giedd, “but it’s never going to be as good as it is when we’re adolescents.”

Thomas Armstrong

In this book, Armstrong argues that the experiences adolescents have, roughly between the ages 11 and 18, will have huge consequences on their adult lives. This is because of adolescent neuroplasticity. He says that this is the period wherein, “the brain will wire itself accordingly and become more or less structurally and functionally ‘fixed’ in place for the remainder of their lives.”

Adolescent neuroplasticity points at three things:

Neurogenesis  – the rate of growing new neurons is four to five times faster among adolescents than adults.

Synaptic Pruning – the brain decides which connections are eliminated or maintained.

Myelination – increased protection on nerve fibers happens during adolescence which results in making electrical transmission of messages quicker and more efficient.

The book tends to be laden with technical terms (there’s a helpful glossary!) but provides very practical tips and strategies about the teenage brain in relation to:

  • Importance of Peer Relationships
  • Positive Discipline
  • Active Reflection and Decision-Making
  • Identity Formation
  • Emotional Intelligence / Socio-Emotional Learning
  • Cognitive Development / Metacognition
  • Brain-Friendly Practices and Activities in the Classroom

Reading this book will open your eyes to missed and potential opportunities when it comes to guiding and forming the youth of today.

The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students by Thomas Armstrong is available through



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