Guiding the Preteen Brain for Academic Success

Your child’s body starts to go through a lot of changes as they reach their preteen years. While physical changes are a large part of this, your preteen’s brain will also be experiencing changes that will likely pose a variety of mental and emotional challenges. These challenges are both internal, dealing with emotional response and rational decision-making, and external, impacting their actions and behaviour in certain scenarios. While your preteen’s mind is developing, it is important for you as a parent to understand their thought processes to foster more effective communication and help your child achieve their fullest potential.

The Biology

The development of the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe begins in one’s preteens and continues into adolescence. This is an important part of the brain that is responsible for a wide range of advanced judgement abilities including rational decision-making, forward-thinking and mediating between conflicting emotions.

While the prefrontal cortex is developing, you may notice your child is disorganized and is not thinking of how their actions will affect their future self. This is compounded by an influx of new hormones being released in the preteen body causing unpredictable emotions that your child will be forced to navigate. This makes it important for you as the parent to provide consistent encouragement and direction until their minds have fully development and they are more prepared to make informed, rational decisions without guidance.

Strategies for Maximizing Academic Performance

Help Guide Forward-Thinking – As the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed in the preteen brain, they may have difficulties thinking of their present decisions as a determining factor in their future. This will make it important for you as the parent to remind them to start studying in sufficient advance of a test, remind them of the real dangers of impulsive activities, and that performing well in school, even at this young age, is highly correlated with leading successful and fulfilling adult lives.

Prioritize Healthy EatingNutritious food really does fuel the mind. Unhealthy foods containing large amounts of fat, sodium and sugar will likely be your preteens first choice, as the pleasure centers of their brain develop before the forward-thinking prefrontal cortex. However, persistent consumption of these foods can have a negative effect on health, and even academically, as they can result in uncontrollable dips and spikes in energy levels and make it more difficult to concentrate. Promoting healthy eating at home will help set your preteen up for success.

Encourage Physical ActivityResearch shows that there is a positive correlation between exercise and a child’s cognitive development. Studies have even shown that students that engage in vigorous physical activity earn significantly higher grades in academic studies than students who engage in no vigorous activity. Engaging in team sports can also encourage a whole host of other benefits including building self-esteem, self-confidence, and better social and communication skills.

Provide Encouragement and Direction – While your preteen is likely to be pushing you away, this is a time in their life when they need unconditional love and support and positive reinforcement more than ever. Make sure you share praise on a job well done, and provide constructive support and guidance for areas of improvement. Maintaining this balanced, positive strategy in encouragement will allow your child to build self-esteem through intelligent decision-making and prevent an over-indulged false sense of achievement that will only hurt them in the “real world”.

St-Laurent Academy is a leading private school in Ottawa, offering programming for elementary school, junior high school, and high school. Space is limited, so book your visit to learn more about our school and enroll for the 2016-17 academic year.