For the parents of a teenager, adolescence can be a challenging time. But to a brain scientist, it's a marvel.
"I want people to understand that adolescence is not a disease, that adolescence is an amazing time of development," says Beatriz Luna, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh.
That development is on display most afternoons at the Shaw Skatepark in Washington, D.C. It's a public site, filled with teens hanging out, taking risks, and learning new skills at a rapid pace.
"When you're younger, your mind is more open, and you're more creative, and nothing matters," says Leo De Leon, 13. "So you'll really try anything."
Leo has been skateboarding since he was 10. But getting the nerve to try a skate park for the first time was "kind of scary," he says. "I fell a lot when I first started. And I got hurt a lot."
Leo also got better — fast. And when he'd mastered one trick, he'd push himself to learn a new one, despite the risks.
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Leo's swift progress from frightened novice to accomplished skater shows the strengths of an adolescent brain.
"It's an incredible brain," Luna says. "It's just perfect for what it needs to do. And what it needs to do is gain experiences."
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Adolescence isn't just for humans. It's also present in chimpanzees.
"There's something really charming about the chimps when they're going through this adolescent period," says Alexandra Rosati, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Michigan. "They look kind of gangly. They have these new big teeth in their mouth."
And, of course, they are experiencing puberty.
"They're going through this physical change in the body and those same hormones are resculpting the brain, basically, during this period," Rosati says.
Part of this resculpting involves the willingness to take risks.