Today we’d like to introduce you to Shivek Narang.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Shivek. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
When I was in eighth grade, my biology teacher asked me to join the school’s neuroscience club. While I had been interested in biology and human anatomy for years, I never really had done much research into the nervous system. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. In the very first session, we performed a brain dissection. I held a small sheep brain in my hand and it was hard for me to fathom that this tiny piece of grey and white matter is responsible for everything we do, including our ability to see, hear, feel, learn, move, and so much more. From then, I was completely hooked. I began to read about the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, understanding how the various neural networks and regions of the brain interact together to help us control our body. I attended many conferences held by the Bay Area Youth Society for Neuroscience and that gave me an opportunity to learn about various topics in neurosciences. I also interned at the neuroradiology reading rooms throughout the summer, where I learned how to read MRI scans and diagnose various neurological disorders.
In my freshman year of high school, I continued my interested pursuit in the brain and neuroscience, studying for the brain bee, and understanding more about how the brain works. I took a class from Harvard University regarding an introductory neuroscience course where I learned quite a bit about the interdisciplinary interactions of neuroscience, especially how the brain utilizes physics and the Nernst potential to fire signals. I also learned about the developmental aspect of neuroscience and how the brain develops during adolescence and our formative years known as the critical period. At the same time, a couple of my friends from one of my local public schools mentioned to me that one of their classmates took her own life due to the social and academic stress she was feeling due to school. Similarly Gunn High School, another school in my area, was known to have some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation. Teenagers are known to constantly be undergoing many struggles as they grow and change, and I was curious to learn about the relationship between the developing teenage brain and changes in mental health.
As I continued to read and perform research, I soon came to understand that the teenage brain was extra weak and vulnerable due to the constant changes it undergoes. There is one major region, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for emotional control and decision making which is especially developing in teenagers. Because it is constantly developing and changing, the prefrontal cortex is in a way unstable for teenagers. This leads to teenagers making poor decisions and not being in control of their emotions. Oftentimes, caregivers and parents regard their teenagers as being dumb for their impulsive behavior, forgetting to realize that this behavioral occurs simply as a normal part of growth and development. The harsh messages that the children thus receive from their superiors make them feel depressed and disappointed in themselves. I believe that it is important for teenagers to understand the changes and development that their brains are going through during their adolescent years as to understand the way their brains are and not feel as if it is their fault for the way they act.
This led to the formation of my initiative, Our Teen Brains, which is aimed to help teenagers and their guardians understand the teenage brain and the changes it is going through. Our goal is to spread awareness about the developing teenage brain towards explaining some of the causes of mental health failures. We teenagers should learn about our constantly changing brain because I think it’s empowering for young people to know and understand more about why they might be feeling a certain way and more adequate steps may be taken to correct the mental challenges they may feel. I give presentations on various topics which impact us teens, especially during our high school years. Like Peer Pressure, depression, stress, mindfulness, and how they are related to the developing brains of us teens. Some videos can be found on our YouTube channel on our website (Ourteenbrains.org).
I also share my research and workshops with various school communities as part of our wellness sessions. I have received testimonials from school counselors, teachers and parents stating that my workshops add a wonderful element of the neuroscience and student perspective. I have also been told that I bring enthusiasm, insight and relevant information to the sessions. But, most of all, the students themselves feel that understanding the developing teen brains can help them with tips and tools to manage mental stress and pressures of high school life. Teenagers should learn about our constantly changing brain because it is empowering for young people to know and understand more about why they might be feeling a certain way and more adequate steps may be taken to correct the mental challenges they may feel. This was the main motivation behind the creation of Our Teen Brains.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road to forming my own nonprofit organization was fraught with complications. One of the biggest problems I had was reaching out to share my initiative with others. Initially, I struggled to connect with psychologists and professionals in the field, looking for support and guidance for my project. Eventually, I started to broadcast my initiative and shared some of my research in the teenage brain with my community while providing some ideas regarding how high schoolers can be better prepared for the developmental changes during adolescence. This enabled me to meet with a couple of neurospecialists, including a neuropsychologist from Oregon who told me about the psychology oriented curriculum they were planning for students in their region.
As a part of my ambitious plan to propose a neuroscience focused course on the developing brain, I reached out to my mayor and local congressman to propose these ideas to implement in the local public school system. Unfortunately, I struggled to obtain a response, but I have continued to develop ideas for my research to be implemented in a school curriculum. I plan on reaching out to my local public officials once again very soon after they are no longer burdened with the effect COVID-19 is having on our district. And this leads to another struggle that I faced, the global pandemic. As we are all now quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus, it is much harder for me to go out in the community and share my research with other schools or in my public library with my community.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Our Teen Brains story. Tell us more about the business.
Generally, we may hear people say that teenagers tend to be reckless. Engage in risky behaviors. Are prone to mood swings? Easily influenced? And sometimes, make bad decisions. Most of these actions can be linked to the developing teen brains. There is a scientific reason why teens behave as they do. We know that teenage years are especially formative years. This is due to development in a region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. This is a part of the brain responsible for decision making, responsibility, emotion, and helps set a filter on an individual’s mouth. While almost the entire brain is still developing at this point, it is the prefrontal cortex that especially is growing and changing throughout adolescence with every action we take or every influence we get. It is very important that teenagers know about the changes that their brain is going through since being conscious about these changes will help them be prepared for all the adverse side effects that this development leads to.
Having the knowledge that what they are feeling is because of brain development they will feel more open to talking to a counselor which will help them feel better and solve the emotional conflict. As I researched the areas of teen brains, I see that there are various forums which provide some of this information. Most of them are aimed at adults mostly, parents helped them have better conversations with their children. There are few organizations releasing newsletters and infographics which help drive some of the areas of our teen brains. However, there are no direct services and no apps which make this information easily available to teens. As a teenager myself, I can attest that the teenage years are a sensitive age for most people. I admit that I also display many of these emotions and from experiences, I agree with the idea that the increased feelings of self-consciousness and self-image play a pivotal role in the way teenagers act. A large majority of our actions are performed to increase our “social status”, or the way our peers view us. This inner ego is fragile and can be easily broken and can contribute to a variety of emotions such as anxiety and depression. Teenagers and even some young adults are often unaware of why they may be feeling a certain way.
As I have taken many advanced neuroscience and also performed a lot of related research, I sincerely feel that Understanding Our Teen Brains can Show us the Secret to Managing Teenager’s Mental Health. Additionally, there may be a relationship between Teen Suicides and Brain Development. It is imperative for us to advocate for understanding these specific areas like stress, improving mental health, understanding the impacts of peer pressure, impact on the brain on using drugs and alcohol. But, these information should be available easily and should be a manner which teens can relate to and understand. In all my workshops, I try to present this information in a relatable way and I have received feedback to comprehend these bit-sized information produced as part of my workshops such as “You bring such enthusiasm, insight and relevant information to the sessions” I feel that my being a teen myself and understanding the high school environment allows me to articulate the learnings in a way that personally could accept them.
I have received tremendous feedback on my workshops and presentations that I have been giving in person and in online forums. The feedback is from my peers and other teens, as well as from adults that my perspective on this topic has helped them a lot. I have been encouraged to initiate a YouTube channel and I have been working on my presentations.
So, far my audience of around 2000 teens and parents have found my sessions extremely beneficial. So, I am now working with a few other volunteers who are interested in sharing this information in other US states as well as in other countries.
One of the key goals of my product is to deliver this information either as presentations or hands on workshops. To extend our reach further, I am working on an app which provides information on our Teen Brains which is applicable to us teens in our everyday lives.
This app is designed to cover the impacts of stress, peer pressure, anxiety, loneliness, social media and drugs. Additionally, it will help teenagers with possible actions, what they should do and what they should avoid and in general help them support better mental health and positive attitude.
- Website: https://ourteenbrains.org
- Phone: 4084392990
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/our_teen_brains/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeenBrains
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/OurTeenBrains