This week we went back to our month-long Neuroscience module with a lesson on brain anatomy. Our aim with neuroscience is twofold. First, for students to understand the foundations on which we will build the upcoming lessons on mental health, disorders, and addictions. Second, for them to grasp just how complex behavior is, so that they develop more acceptance and empathy towards themselves and one another.
Three main takeaways from this week's talk:
- Your brains are extraordinary: They are undergoing a massive remodeling during middle and high school. While it lasts, your behavior may feel chaotic to those around you and even to yourself. Don't forget the value that you bring: as Judith Grisel says in her TED talk to college students, having risk-prone, irreverent youth live alongside cautious, rule-enforcing adults brings great innovation benefits to the whole society
- Your brains are still very malleable, but not for long.
- It is important to treat them well Brains remodel with the "use it or lose it" principle. Be mindful about how you spend your time, know that you are building the organ that will carry you during your whole lifetime - with decreasing plasticity. Learn, play sports, music, engage with art, interact in person with people...all these are fundamental to strengthening your brain as it matures.
- It is particularly hard for teens, particularly now! The global pandemic has compromised our ability to pursue these healthy practices. In addition, the pre-frontal cortex (which enables us to inhibit impulses and gain more flexibility in behavior) is not yet fully mature during middle and high school.
- With addictive substances, "who gets high will go low", especially for those who start using them during adolescence. The networks we are learning about - particularly the dopamine reward system, but also our stress response system, amygdala, hippocampus, and pre-frontal cortex - all become affected.