Understanding the Teen Brain
It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good
judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet.
The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25
In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults
think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the
brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term
consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.
In teens' brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the
decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s
why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they
were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.
What's a parent to do?
You’re the most important role model your kids have. Sure, their friends are important
to them, but the way you behave and fulfill your responsibilities will have a profound
and long-lasting effect on your children.
Discussing the consequences of their actions can help teens link impulsive thinking
with facts. This helps the brain make these connections and wires the brain to make
this link more often.
Remind your teens that they’re resilient and competent. Because they’re so focused
in the moment, teens have trouble seeing that they can play a part in changing bad
situations. It can help to remind them of times in the past that they thought would
be devastating but turned out for the best.
Become familiar with things that are important to your teens. It doesn’t mean you
have to like hip-hop music, but showing an interest in the things they’re involved
in shows them they’re important to you.
Ask teens if they want you to respond when they come to you with problems, or if they
just want you to listen.
Teen brains need more sleep than adults. Try to guide your teen toward good sleep
Parents tend to jump in with advice to try to fix their children’s problems or place
blame. But this can make teens less likely to be open with their parents in the future.
You want to make it emotionally safe and easy for them to come to you so you can be
part of their lives.
Signs of trouble
It’s normal for teens to be down or out of sorts for a couple of days. But if you
see a significant mood or behavioral change that lasts more than 2 weeks, it could
mean something else is going on, such as depression.
If you think your teen could be depressed, promptly seek professional treatment for your
child. Depression is serious and, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.
Your teen needs your guidance, even though they may think they don’t. Understanding
their development can help you support them in becoming independent, responsible adults.