Social Sciences

Your Brain Is Especially Vulnerable To Trauma In Your Toddler And Teen Years

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Life for a two-year-old or a teenager is challenging enough before you learn that at their age, their brains are uniquely vulnerable. Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, claims that traumatic experiences during these age periods could permanently alter the brains of toddlers and teens.

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Help A Brain Out

What do your "terrible twos" and "turbulent teen" years have in common? They're when your brain's wiring is most malleable. During the first two years of your life, your noggin goes through some major development that ends with a super important milestone: speech. The process of learning and understanding language has your brain working on overdrive, and, as Quartz notes, "physical or emotional trauma" (abuse, neglect, etc.) during this taxing period "can cause potentially momentous interruptions to neurological development." Even if you don't remember it.

By the time you hit your teen years, your brain has started its "pruning" process—that is, it begins to toss out unused connections. That means your brain's frontal lobes are particularly active, and for the first time, you're capable of high-level thought and the analysis of several complex concepts at once. What does this mean? Swart tells Quartz that this is when you start to understand more complicated topics, such as social relationships and politics.

Stability Is Key

Here's why this matters: brain function and overall human development thrive on stability. Experiences that throw a kid's life into chaos, such as divorce, a cross-country move, or emotional trauma, could have bigger effects during these precious years. Even if a toddler is too young to remember something or a teen is already "angsty," having a stable environment has been scientifically proven to set them up for success.

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