Youth Task Force speaker will describe how teenagers think

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

For all those parents who worry about how their teenagers can navigate the many challenges that come their way, whether they can make the right decisions, and what kind of guidance they need, Traci Brooks, MD is coming to the rescue.

Director of Adolescent Health Services at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Dr. Brooks will speak on Adolescent Brain Development next Wednesday, April 25, 6:30 pm, at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center. Her appearance is part of the MV Youth Task Force (YTF) Speaker Series.

Dr. Brooks offers insights based on scientific facts about why teens are often moody, impulsive, maddening, and can exhibit frustrating behavior, according to a program description. The reason: teenage brains are not the same as adult brains.

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Brooks is also director of teen health centers at the Cambridge, Somerville, and Everett high schools. She is an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and is affiliated with Boston Children’s, Massachusetts General, and Mt. Auburn hospitals. Her area of expertise is adolescent issues, including sexuality, high risk behaviors, and substance abuse.

Dr. Brooks will discuss the changes that occur in the brain as it matures, explore why teens make the choices they do, and look at the effects of substances on the developing brain.

According to Theresa Manning, YTF coalition co-coordinator along with Jamie Vanderhoop, recent groundbreaking research has shown that teenagers’ brains are actually different from those of adults. The brain is not developed until age 25, leaving adolescents without full abilities to make sensible decisions.

“Understanding that is a really helpful tool for parents, educators, and anyone who works with kids,” she said. “We still have to help them make decisions, make good decisions, and not have substances influence that development.”

Ms. Manning said the group was delighted to locate Dr. Brooks who comes highly recommended for her work with schools and other youth organizations.

“It’s challenging to find a person well-versed in neuroscience who can speak in a way that resonates with parents, that parents understand,” Ms. Manning said.

“We have an incredible coalition, it is so committed and involved, ” Ms. Manning said, listing parents, educators, police, therapists, and medical professionals among the 50 members.

The group’s goal is to “strengthen the safety net for kids,” she said, with a major focus on combatting underage substance abuse. She said YTF works with schools, police departments, and other local groups to help develop policies and toughen the community message that substance abuse is not tolerated.

The group sponsors dinner discussions for parents of teens so families can share common concerns and strategize together about how to address them. Another form of community education is the Speaker Series for which the coalition sponsors experts on adolescent issues.

“We look to bring resources to our community, to get the best knowledge available to the people who live on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Manning said. She said the group operates with both state and federal funding which enables it to network with other similar off-Island groups, discuss concerns and information, and locate individuals to share their expertise with Islanders who can sometimes feel isolated.

Upcoming speakers include Martha Straus, PhD, on Friday, May 18, on “Intentional Parenting.” On Wed., May 30, Attorney Mark Hoover, a 1983 regional high school graduate, will present the facts about the Social Host Liability Law. In his talk, “Be a Parent, Not a Pal,” Mr. Hoover will outline the chilling consequences of allowing youths under 21 to possess alcohol or drink in one’s home. Both events will be held at the YMCA.

“Adolescent Brain Development,” Traci Brooks, MD, Wed., April 25, 6:30 to 8 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center. Free. For more information visit