“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”
“I AM OLD ENOUGH TO MAKE MY OWN DECISIONS!”
How many parents have heard this once (or fifty times) from their teenager? Does then the feeling of guilt set in that you may be too clingy or that you are the only parent who is not letting your teen do something? Well parents, I have good news for you: You can stop feeling guilty about saying “no” to your teenager or worrying that you are overprotecting them.
Although the brain may be at 95% of its adult size by age six, there are still many changes happening into our early twenties. (Geidd) Specifically, the frontal lobe of our brain is not fully developed in teenagers. It continues to develop and becomes fully mature around the age of 20-25. This is important for parents to know because the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for such functions as planning, organizing, decision making, controlling impulses, weighing outcomes and forming judgments. (Edmund, Knox)
During the teen years, a process called “synaptic pruning” occurs in the brain. In this process, synapses that are frequently used are strengthened and those that are infrequently used are eliminated. The frontal lobes are last to fully develop because brain maturation occurs back to front. It is for this reason that teens may have difficulty with problem solving skills and learning from their mistakes. They may also display impulsive, inappropriate behavior and labile emotions. (Ogden)
Don’t get me wrong, this lack of frontal lobe maturation is not an excuse for their behavior. However, parents need to keep this in the back of their mind and realize it may take more effort to modify their teen’s behavior. Parents should also realize that some risk taking behavior may be necessary for teens to learn about life and become independent; otherwise our children would never leave home. By the way…here’s some more bad news: Teenagers who drink and use drugs risk damaging their frontal lobe to the point where it never fully matures. Oh great – then they may never leave the nest! Alcohol and drug consumption by a teen whose frontal lobe has not fully matured further decrease inhibitions and increase the likelihood of poor decision making and impaired judgment. (Ogden)
A study was done by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd et al using functional MRI to compare brain activity of teens and adults. They found while adults have greater activity in their frontal lobes, teens had greater activity in their amygdala. The frontal lobe is the decision making cause and effect area, where the amygdala is the instinct “fight or flight” area. Interestingly, decreased frontal lobe development results in poor decision making. Furthermore, an overactive amygdala is associated with increased levels of emotional arousal and reactionary decision making. (Talukder) These results suggest teens are likely to be incapable of making rational decisions when faced with an emotional issue. For example: when asked to partake in doing drugs with friends, a teen’s ability to make the right choice is affected by the emotional feelings of friendship.
According to another study done at the McLean Hospital in Boston, teens may be unable to process visual, emotional and cognitive information. This study examined the brain of teens while they were looking at various emotions on peoples’ faces. During the trials the teen brains’ emotional centers light up, however their thinking regions stay dark. These results may explain why teens seem un-phased by a parent’s look of disappointment or annoyance with them. (Begley)
Our children seem to develop so fast. One day they are your sweet little child and the next they are taller than you, their voice and bodies have changed and they think they know everything. Fear not fellow parents – they do NOT know more than you. You ARE making the right decisions to help guide them with life’s challenges. Stay strong and don’t let them break you. After all, your frontal lobe is fully functioning (…hopefully).
Begley, S. (February 27, 2000). Getting inside a teen brain. In Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2000/02/27/getting-inside-a-teen-brain.html.
Brownlee, S. (August 1, 1999). Inside the teen brain: Behavior can be baffling when young minds are taking shape. In US News and World Report. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/990809/archive_001644_print.htm.
Edmunds, M. (n.d.). Are teenage brains really different from adult brains? In How stuff works; A Discovery Company. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/teenage-brain.htm.
Geidd, J MD. (n.d.). Inside the teenage brain. In Frontline, PBS.org. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/giedd.html.
Knox, R. (March 1, 2010). The teen brain: It’s just not grown up yet. In NPR. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468
Ogden, J, Ph.D. (December 18, 2011). Brilliant, brazen, teenage brains: Teen brains, crazy behavior and independence. In Psychology Today. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201112/brilliant-brazen-teenage-brains.
Talukder, G. (March, 20, 2013). Decision-making is still a work in progress for teenagers. In Brain Connection. Retrieved September 29, 2013, from http://brainconnection.positscience.com/decision-making-is-still-a-work-in-progress-for-teenagers/