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As you probably realize, children’s brains are constantly growing. New experiences translate into neural connections which adds brain capacity for life. At no other time in life is learning so automatic and so important.

As children grow towards adulthood, the speed of brain cell connection slows down and pruning of unused brain cells speeds up. You might have heard that your child has more brain cells than you do and it’s true. Whatever is there at birth but unused by adolescence is cut away to make room for brain cells that are really needed.  While it’s always possible to learn new things and make new brain connections, the ease with which we learn new things lessens with age.

Except in some teens. New research indicates that for some teens, the window on rapid brain connection stays open longer, far into adolescence.  This means that for some children, the teen years provide extra time for nearly effortless learning. This research suggests that children who have higher IQs are more likely to have this extra time. But I suggest it’s smart to assume one of these children is yours.

No matter how capable and accomplished your child is now, there’s no reason to assume his learning will slow in adolescence. It makes sense to presume your child will continue learning new things quickly: there’s no reason not to think this and every reason to think so. If your teen learns more because you believe he can, that’s great.

So what should you do? How can you help your teen keep her brain development window open?

  1. Support learning of all sorts. Everything a person does starts in the brain, so learning how to run faster, play an instrument, or create websites all contributes to brain development. The brain isn’t just for school skills.
  2. Encourage learning in new areas. There never will be a better time to learn to sing, master a new language, try a new sport, or learn any other new skill. If there’s an interest, try to capitalize on that now and not wait until your child is older. There’s still time to learn, so it’s not too late to begin.
  3. Help your child link up with experts, so he’s learning from the best in real situations. This might mean helping him find a chess club, a music teacher, or an artisan willing to take on an apprentice. The support of an older mentor will deepen your child’s learning.
  4. Keep learning yourself. Just as learning isn’t only for school so is learning not just for kids. Stretch your own brain and model new learning for your kids. It won’t be so easy to learn new things as it is for your children, but the more you learn, the easier it will become.

Developing your child’s teenage brain is an extra-curricular activity. School is great for academic learning but there’s a lot more your child’s mind can do. It’s up to you to help your teen become all she can be.

The secret is to never, ever stop!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.