Effect on Brain Development
Adolescent brain development can be negatively affected if he/she experiences trauma during adolescence.
The majority of brain development occurs during childhood and adolescence. In fact, full brain development is now believed to not be complete until the mid-twenties.1 Not only are components of brain development genetically programmed, but many are also dependent on experiences, both good and bad. The brain is designed to change in response to repetitive stimulation.
The following brain functions are developed during adolescence:
An adolescent’s environment directly influences their brain function and capacities. The neural systems in the brain are altered when adolescents are exposed to daily or regular situations which invoke fear and trauma. All aspects of the adolescent’s functioning change. Memory, cognition, and arousal are the key areas affected, as well as changes in attention, sleep, impulse control, and fine motor control. Interventions must directly activate the areas of the brain that have been altered by fear and trauma in order to promote healing of those areas impacted.2
Hormones are also controlled by the brain. During puberty, the brain begins major hormonal changes. Children who were sexually abused may experience hormonal changes earlier. One important set of hormones, Cortisol and DHEA, helps prepare people to deal with stress and danger. Cortisol regulates glucose metabolism, blood pressure, the immune system, and the body’s response to stress. DHEA, produced by the adrenal gland, protects the body against depression and anxiety. Children, who have experienced trauma, by adolescence, begin to show signs of changes in the levels of these stress hormones. These changes may effect how adolescents deal with future dangers, delay developmental processes, and potentially influence long-term health.3