Judgment Call: Understanding the Teenage Brain

Judgment Call: Understanding the Teenage BrainKids do incomprehensible things: every parent knows this. Of course, that doesn’t mean our responses as parents are necessarily any more logical. Teens have a good excuse, though: their brains are at a volatile moment of development, between childhood to adulthood.

Medical evidence has proven that teens are hardwired to act more on emotion, avoid thinking about risk, and generally set themselves up for potential catastrophe. This is because the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotion and decision making, is vulnerable due to brain developments, and can lead to these kinds of impaired judgments.

As a parent, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in your own emotions and start laying down the law, but is that actually the best plan? Sort of.

Disciplining With Love

When teens mess up in a big way–say, crashing your new car–loving them often takes a back seat to explaining that what they did was actually a huge problem that’s going to have ramifications. Kids tend to have just one reaction to this: “Look, I know it was a mistake, okay? I do feel bad, so can you just tell me what my punishment is so we can all get back to what we were doing?”

This isn’t just callousness on their part. Teens are excellent at justifying their actions, but if they know they screwed up and are truly in the wrong, nothing hurts more than your disapproval… because they still love you, and know they deserve to be punished.

This mentality is why reinforcing your love as soon as you can after kids mess up is a pertinent strategy. Sometimes, all it takes is a hug to keep them on the right track, especially if you can give it to them before you explode from the panic. This will give you the chance to calm down, think about what you’re planning to do, and remember what’s most important.

Should Teens Be Allowed To Fail?

This is a question that pops up sometime, mostly from parents who are concerned about doing the right thing. Every dad wants to protect their child, but there is a time when they need to learn to stand on their own. I don’t agree with allowing kids to fail spectacularly if there’s something you can do to prevent it, especially because there’s an alternative that we’re perfectly positioned to do.

In short: Teach your children to be independent from a young age. Don’t just tell them to do the chores – show them how to do it properly and make them repeat it until they’re done. Let them learn how to cook food, pitch a tent, and use tools around the house. It doesn’t really matter what they’re learning as long as it encourages independence. Learning lessons about failure at a young age really can make a difference in their future and help them become as good as they can be.

For more information on the teenage brain’s development, and why parenting teens can be a tricky undertaking, see the infographic below. Judgment Call: Understanding the Teenage Brain

[About the author: Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she has learned a lot of things the hard way, and hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.]

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