Adolescents throughout the U.S. face psychosocial challenges they may not even be aware of at this point in time
The stage of development in primates we refer to as “adolescence” sits in between the stages of childhood and adulthood. The COVID crisis has contributed to discomforting symptoms we see in adolescence today. Adolescents throughout the U.S. face psychosocial challenges they may not even be aware of at this point in time. They experience mental issues like emotional disorders, self-harming behaviors, and key symptoms we find in clinical depression. Researchers, therapists, and psychologists are working tirelessly to identify strategies to help support adolescence as they embark on their healing journey. I want to contribute to this effort in this blog by sketching out major signs that show us an adolescent is moving through the adolescence life stages in a healthy manner.
Adolescence is the stage between childhood and adulthood. Normative adolescent behavior is sensation seeking, researchers tell us. The environment that helps move an adolescent into this stage is important to note. An adolescent must experience an environment that reinforces higher cognitive abilities. Examples of higher cognitive abilities are working memory, reflective thinking, response inhibition, and performance monitoring. One way to measure whether cognitive abilities are improving is by performing cognitive tests on an adolescent. The tests may show whether a person’s performance on cognitive tasks improves. This shows that a person’s cognitive ability is improving; the improvements in this area of the brain help adolescence pursue other important goals like sensation seeking. Feeling requires critical thinking skills. The specific areas of a person’s brain that improve when critical thinking improves are the prefrontal cortex (PFC), posterior parietal cortex, and superior temporal cortex. Mental health challenges can begin to surface at this biological stage due to events, i.e., COVID, emotional or mental abuse, etc.
One major critical period an adolescent brain undergoes is when neurons begin to multiply and connect rapidly
Critical periods have been identified when a brain of an adolescent matures significantly. One major critical period an adolescent brain undergoes is when neurons begin to multiply and connect rapidly. When neurons fire together and often, the brain can send messages quicker to other parts of the brain. This matters because critical thinking is only possible when neurons are firing together frequently. The road to well-being begins when neurons connect daily. This critical period that is found in adolescence begins when she experiences an event that brings about excitement. This event can be receiving an award at school, performing well in a competition event, etc. Certain brain parts activate to “stop” brain functions that do not allow a brain to mature; the parts of a brain that help it mature turn on at the same time also. The major “glue” for these connections to occur in the brain is called myelination. Myelin is made up of proteins and lipids and creates a “tube” for messages to travel through to send messages throughout the brain. Critical periods like these give way to healthy brain functioning, creating the opportunity for an adolescent to overcome challenges that may be stressful like the COVID crisis. Many of our kids were not prepared for this crisis which had negative effects on brain development.
The brain of an adolescent is distinct from the brain of an adult. The brain of an adolescent will manage impulses if the brain matures successfully. The impulses that are normal for this biological age are yelling during an argument, lying, fighting at school, etc. The adolescent brain must have the skills to manage these types of impulses to move on to different biological brain stages. The critical period of development (CPD) is what this stage is referred to by neuroscientists. The brain of an adult is not growing as rapidly, in contrast. Neurons paired together are difficult to uncouple inside an adult brain. The brain of an adult matures to full optimal growth once a person is approximately 30 years of age. The adolescent brain continually is coding the social world around her, and a healthy adolescent brain is shaped positively by the social world, according to Dr. Casey, professor, and researcher at Yale University. 
Behaviors have been documented by the CDC that show that developmental stages are not being completed
Adolescence requires emotional support to help them through the biological stages of development. Anxiety and stress due to events like COVID brought about mental challenges for many adolescents. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides evidence this is the case. Behaviors have been documented by the CDC that show that developmental stages are not being completed, creating large deficits in cognitive abilities. Communities, parents, and schools are being affected severely because children need an expensive level of support to reach normal developmental stages. The virtues of the US depend upon the funding of necessary programs to ensure the well-being of the next generation of humans in the U.S.
The emphasis often is on creating policies that invalidate the experience of millions of American citizens: creating more policies does not reflect the nightmare of an experience children face daily
To close, policymakers must pay attention to the trends of biological development and those barriers that inhibit the completion of these stages. I watch congressional hearings often to identify those elected officials that focus on the root issues that contribute to the mental health challenges children are facing today. However, I find it disappointing what I discover when I listen to congressional hearings. I cannot imagine that people do not find themselves traumatized when they listen to these same hearings. The focus is not on identifying root issues for mental health issues in children. The emphasis often is on creating policies that invalidate the experience of millions of American citizens: creating more policies does not reflect the nightmare of an experience children face daily; I can list example after example of what children face daily that limits their developmental growth. Children speak and people in authority are not listening.
 Larson and Luna, 2018
 Casey, 2019
Ramon Diaz, Jr. M.A., LPC, NCC, CCTS, CDBT
Clinical Complex Trauma Specialist (CCTS-1),
Certified Dialectical Behavioral Therapist (C-DBT),
in progress, Certified Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counseling (CADC),
Clinical Therapist – Sprout Family Clinics
Adolescent and Family Therapist – Bridgeview Clinical Services