High School Education and Adolescent Brain

High school education is a critical aspect that significantly impacts the pursuit of a college degree and an individual’s social and personal development. Nevertheless, currently, many adolescents struggle in high school both academically and socially. Although I agree with Steinberg’s (2014) premise that American high school students lack challenge, I also believe that solely relying on that as a solution for academic disengagement cannot produce the optimal outcome.

The primary reason why I agree with Steinberg’s (2014) idea is the pieces of evidence that the author provides to support their point. According to Steinberg (2014), both American and exchange students claim that American high schools present limited intellectual challenges compared to other developed countries. This evidence supports the idea that American high school students would benefit from additional academic activities. Moreover, Steinberg (2014) proved the limited importance of other factors such as private vs. public schools, teacher experience, salary, and accessibility, among other factors. Thus, it is likely that insufficient intellectual challenge can be a significant reason why American high school students are academically less successful than other students.

In addition, adolescents should be academically challenged during high school because of the specific neurological capacities in their brain development. One of the most critical changes in adolescent brain development is the elimination of unnecessary synapses, known as synaptic pruning, which helps the brain function more efficiently (Steinberg, 2014). Moreover, the myelination process, another critical structural change during the adolescent period, enables more efficient connections between the brain parts, thus, improving advanced thinking abilities (Steinberg, 2014). Berk (2018) emphasizes that as adolescents solve more complex problems, their scientific reasoning abilities also improve. Therefore, the teenage brain is capable and thrives on additional intellectual challenges.

Nevertheless, policymakers and faculty should complement this solution of adding more academic challenges to high school students by considering other neurological structures of the adolescent brain. Namely, Steinberg (2014) emphasizes that this period of adolescent brain development also experiences changes in the activity of neurotransmitters in the limbic system. These changes stimulate emotional arousal, and sensational seeking, thus, making adolescents more sensitive to emotional stimuli, social engagement, and rewards (Berk, 2018; Steinberg, 2014).

Hence, there is a biological explanation for high school students’ increased sensitivity to social information and desire for experimentation with risky activities. This factor also might explain the low level of academic engagement because the adolescent brain strives for emotion, risk, and social interactions instead of lectures, textbooks, and assignments. Therefore, merely adding more intellectual challenges will not satisfy the brain’s desires. A better solution would be to combine academic activities with experiential learning, risk-taking, and social activities. Thus, such a strategy will satisfy the brain’s desire for emotional stimuli while also taking advantage of the advanced capacities of the adolescent brain.

The learning environment is a critical aspect that remote learning cannot provide. Concerns highlighted in the article, such as resource gap and emotional struggles, are of primary importance (Kamenetz, 2020). Nevertheless, due to the changes in the brain structure emphasized above, social interactions for adolescents are significant. Attending online classes with black box Zoom names is discouraging and tiresome for many students. Emotional interaction with other students and professors plays an essential role in students’ desire and ability to obtain knowledge. As more people are vaccinated, one solution would be to allow small in-person classes and trips gradually. Hence, such a method is likely to motivate students to engage academically.

In conclusion, structural changes in the adolescent brain are well-suited for the additional intellectual challenge that the current American high school students lack. However, instructors should combine these academic challenges with activities that satisfy the brain’s sensitivity to emotional stimuli and social information. Lack of social interaction is another concern with remote learning, and organizing in-person classes and activities taking into account safety precautions is a potential solution.


Berk, L. E. (2018). Development through the lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson.

Kamenetz, A. (2020). 4 in 10 U.S. Teens say they haven’t done online learning since schools closed. NPR. Web.

Steinberg, L. D. (2014). Adolescence (10th ed.). McGraw Hill Education.

Steinberg, L. (2014). What’s holding back American teenagers? Our high schools are a disaster. Slate Magazine. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'High School Education and Adolescent Brain'. 11 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "High School Education and Adolescent Brain." September 11, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/high-school-education-and-adolescent-brain/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "High School Education and Adolescent Brain." September 11, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/high-school-education-and-adolescent-brain/.


PsychologyWriting. "High School Education and Adolescent Brain." September 11, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/high-school-education-and-adolescent-brain/.