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Teenagers and choices

Why teenagers make shitty decisions…. According to adults!!!

So they get trashed at a friend’s house/party/event, there is much debate over their dress sense choices, their study responsibility is virtually non-existent and all this are made with a different part of the brain as opposed to how experienced, well matured adults make decisions.

The headline here is that they can’t help it! Here are the main reasons why:

1. They are fun seekers
2. They have an underdeveloped sense of logic
3. Their worst fear is the fear of feeling left out

I’ve mentioned before that the brain develops from the back forward. This means that up to the age of about 25, you are unable to make logical decisions. They know the right from wrong, but when highly excited, under stress, feeling pressured or seeking attention, all that flies out the window.

It is almost like winter and summer for teens: when they are in winter, they are chilled, they have time to think through their decision and they make better choices when relaxed. But when they are in summer, they’re hot, emotions are high and that’s when they make quick, irrational decisions with very little self-control. It is easier for them to be swept up under peer pressure and low control. It is only after they get a cool off period that they realise what their choices have led to and then are faced with ‘decisions-remorse.’

The frontal lobe’s responsibility is for impulse control, decision making, emotional response, fun seeking and consequential thinking. Due to it being very immature, especially from 12-17 years, it is easier to understand why teens make rapid, irrational and emotional choices when put on the spot. They also suffer from having difficulty with delayed gratification and self-discipline. For them being the ultimate fun seekers, it turns the heat on full blast and that just dunks them into hot oil.

It is also impossible to expect them to make well thought through decisions when they are with their peers. They love to fit into their teen community and most of the time know that they are doing wrong, but will only admit it afterwards. As human beings, in fact most brain bearing creations need to feel part of a pack or community. This is how we have survived all these centuries and it has kept us safe. Once you are excluded from a tribe, you lose your identity until you plug in again.

Another thought is also that they are building up their life experience. It is very possible that next time they get into the same situation, they will think about the consequences and there is a great possibility for warning lights to go on.

As parents we can help them by doing the following:

1. Be patient: Especially when the specific situation is the initial one. Yes, it is also the hardest of all, but you’ll be doing them a favour by keeping calm and going through it with you to see where they did it wrong and how they can next time recognise and treat the situation right way. Shouting and screaming will only make them retract and distance them from you.

2. Remind them to anticipate situations: Especially when they are invited to parties or going out. Reminders serve a valuable purpose and it is not that they don’t know it, they just need “the rules” to be brought to the surface again.

3. Set limits: Children of all ages feel safe when they have rules and limits, no matter how often they fight against it. Every time they follow the rules and do as you asked, praise them to set good brain vs behaviour connection. This way you’ll set them up for subsequent decision-making-success.

4. Be the example: We sometimes forget that children mimic us and watch us for guidance. It is less about what we say than what we do. Remember to set good examples for them to learn from and that will prevent them from using it against you.

5. Allow them to feel safe with you and always to ask for help,if not from you, then from a nominated and trusted adult.

Teens just do what teens do and we as parents/adults are in prime position to patiently help and support them through the teen phase until we hand them over to adulthood.