Pamplin Media Group – Teen brain development expert, author coming to Oregon City

Nationally recognized therapist and educator Dr. Crystal Collier will give free talks April 13-14

Oregon City Together is hosting two presentations this month featuring nationally renowned therapist and educator Dr. Crystal Collier.

Collier, a licensed professional counselor who earned a doctorate in counselor education from Sam Houston State University in Texas in 2013, is an expert in adolescent brain development, prevention programs, parenting coaching, and substance abuse.

His book, “The NeuroWhereAbouts Guide,” is in the Oregon City Library in English and Spanish, providing a neurodevelopmental guide for parents who want to prevent risky behaviors in children of all ages.

Oregon City Together asked Collier a few questions ahead of his next visit.

Why is it important for parents to understand adolescent brain development?

Big question! I think knowing where your child’s brain development is at is just as important as knowing where they are physically, where they are, and who they spend time with. That’s why I named my book, “The NeuroWhereabouts Guide”.

The human brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. There’s so much going on in the teenage brain! The more parents know about adolescent brain development, the better they can address issues such as their child’s high-risk behaviors. This is what I call brain-based parenting.

And when I say, high-risk behaviors in teens, as any parent knows, there are a lot of them. For example, I studied the effect of 18 different risky behaviors on the brain for my book. These include alcohol use, binge drinking, self-harm, marijuana use, gambling, vaping, cyberbullying, eating disorders, sexting and video game addiction. Unfortunately, that’s a long list to keep parents up at night! I have charted them so parents know when they are increasing and when to talk to their child.

What are the most important things parents need to know about adolescent brain development?

That teenage brains are still developing. Especially the frontal cortex or what some call the frontal lobe. The brain develops from back to front, so the limbic system matures before the frontal cortex. We sometimes wonder why teenagers seem to be involved in a lot of drama and emotion. . . one of the reasons is that the frontal lobe is not fully developed. This part of the brain is responsible for higher level thinking, executive thinking, planning, organizing, analyzing, problem solving, and regulating emotions.

Smart parenting can help children develop longer, faster neural pathways in the frontal lobe, which means more complex and efficient executive function skills as their child grows, and less engagement in risky behaviors .

You mentioned smart parenting, what is it?

A brain-savvy parent is aware of adolescent brain development, particularly as frontal lobe functions begin to come online. They notice and praise executive function skills, which I call brain-based praise. Like saying “fantastic problem solving” instead of “you’re so smart”. The principle of use it or lose it is certainly in play and savvy adults encourage teens to engage in activities that make them apply critical thinking skills.

Savvy adults are aware of the negative impact substance use has on adolescent brain development. Basically, the use of alcohol and other drugs causes abnormally high levels of dopamine in the teenage brain. The brain then reduces the level of dopamine it normally produces and develops more receptor sites for dopamine. The decrease will cause the teenager to feel depressed and begin to build tolerance. The teen then uses the substance again to feel good, but needs more to get the same feeling. This cycle is how addiction happens. And one of the reasons teens become more addicted than adults is that teenage brains are more sensitive to dopamine. Informed parents know this and prepare.

What is the most important thing a parent should do?

First, know when to talk about each risky behavior. Second, discuss. I put scripts and conversation starters in my book to help with this process. Many parents I have spoken with use the book with their children. I wrote it in an infographic style with lots of great graphics to make it interesting for both parents and teens.

We are to be our child’s frontal lobe until he has one of his own. So, use the effective preventative science-based strategies available. For example, we know more about the risk factors that increase the likelihood of high-risk behavior than in the past. We also know more about the protective factors that can have the opposite effect. Parents today have the opportunity to know more than their parents and to act on that information.

And we continue to talk about the parents, but it’s not just up to them. Knowing about these factors can help families, schools, and the community develop strategies to reduce risk and increase protective factors. My new prevention program, BrainAbouts, is based on all the research in my book. It is a plug-n-play format accessible 24/7 for school staff, parents and students, including videos for every level of development. I will share more information about the program during my visit.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your next visit?

Oregon City Together and I hosted an online webinar last year and can’t wait to be there in person this year! I encourage people to bring their questions for me to answer. I really try to make my presentations informative, fun and dynamic.

adolescent brain development

When: Presentations by Dr. Crystal Collier will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 13 and 14

Wednesday location: Tumwater Ballroom at the Oregon Territory Museum, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City

Thursday location: End of Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1726 Washington St., Oregon City

No cost

Visit octogether.org to learn more and register.


You rely on us to stay informed and we rely on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Sara H. Byrd