Adolescent Brains Are Not Fully Developed

When I began teaching about brain development in the late 1990s, we emphasized the importance of young children’s earliest experiences. Based on numerous media reports and highly-publicized efforts (such as Georgia’s initiative to distribute classical music CDs to all babies born in the state), we believed that brain development was more or less complete by the time a child was 3 to 5 years old.

We were right about the importance of the early years, but quite wrong about the timeline for brain development. A large body of research on adolescent brain development clearly indicates that the brain is far from fully developed at age 3 or 5, or even at age 13 or 15.

Think about some of the common challenges of adolescence. Some of the keys to teenagers’ challenging behaviors, such as their lack of impulse control, their tendency to take needless risks, and their less-than-wise decision-making at times, are functions of a brain that is less than completely developed.

The prefrontal cortex, which controls a series of higher-order thinking abilities known as “executive function,” is not fully developed until as late as age 25 to 30. This means that teens still have some difficulty overcoming their immediate emotional responses and using appropriate self-control to make – and act on – wise decisions.

Understanding adolescent brain development and finding ways to help teens develop good decision-making skills are important ways that adults support healthy adolescent brain development. Better Brains for Babies, a Georgia-based collaborative group that educates adults about brain development, will be presenting an introduction to adolescent brain development via webinar on Thursday, July 10 from 2 – 3 pm Eastern. The introduction, entitled “The Ins and Outs of Adolescent Brain Development,” will focus on the development (and under-development) of various parts of the brain, the ways this brain development affects behavior, and ways to support adolescents during this time when their brains are still developing.

To attend the webinar, go to Pre-registration is not required. Certificates of attendance will be emailed to participants who attend the entire session live, and who complete a request for certificate within 24 hours. A recording of the webinar will also be available a few days afterward for those who could not attend the webinar live.

If you have questions about the webinar, please send them to To learn more about the Better Brains for Babies initiative in Georgia, go to


Diane Bales

Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, The University of Georgia

Co-Leader, eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care

Co-Leader, Better Brains for Babies