The Teenage Brain

I was lucky enough on Thursday to share results day with our first ever Year 13 leavers: young people with top grades from a wide range of subjects including Mathematics, Textiles, Business and Physics.

As they approach the end of their adolescence and begin the next stage of their lives, I wanted to share with you the fascinating reading and opportunities for engagement with literature and scientific research into the workings of the teenage brain which have intrigued me in recent months.

This began with an opportunity to hear Dr Amy Fancourt, Head of Psychology at Queen Anne’s School (of which I am an Old Girl) speak at Northbridge House, another Cognita school, in late spring describing the work of a charity called Braincando.

Their work focuses on the impact of various factors including peer influence and examination stress on the adolescent brain working in partnership with the University of Reading and Goldsmiths College London.

The key theme for me that emerges from their work is how attitudes to learning and behaviour in the classroom can become contagious. This sensitivity to peer pressure and a need for peer approval is further described by Nicola Morgan in her book on the teenage brain.

A book recommended to me by our very own Music and Psychology teacher Mrs Paula Barnes who came across it whilst studying for her Masters in Psychology and has used this and other research as part of PHSE in both Year 6 and Year 10 over the last year. This has focused on stress and friendship largely amongst other topics. I am investigating the opportunity to get Nicola Morgan to offer a workshop for staff, pupils and parents on the workings of the teenage brain. Watch this space for a date!

I believe the contagious attitudes they both describe underpin our success here at Meoncross in many ways. The excellent approach to learning displayed by many of our pupils is the norm here and positive peer pressure reinforces our focus on maintaining a good sense of order throughout the school community.

However, as my colleague Jonathan Taylor, Headmaster of Northbridge House Canonbury, made clear in his speech at Wellington College, we must accept that a typical teen cares more about how their peers perceive them than they do about what we as parents and teachers think. This means we should be careful not to admonish them in front of those same peers; fear of losing face appears to be the main reason why teenagers kick back against discipline. I think this value placed by teens on social outcomes also influences the decisions they make especially when we consider their approach to risk taking and their use of social media.

I will pick up the subject of mobile phones and attitudes to risk in a future blog but suffice to say I remain fascinated by the amazing adolescent brain.

Sarah Ebery


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