Teenagers are legendary for their impulsive risk taking attitude. They’re famously hedonistic because they love a life of pleasure and little self control. And they seem to be engaging in activities with little to no regard for the consequences.
As parents we often wonder if they can just pause to:
- Think about the end result of their choice.
- And what their behavior might show the world as a reflection of our parenting.
But, isn’t it really the age to blame?
The prefrontal cortex, the part that regulates emotional responses and understands the consequences of actions we do, is the last one to develop in our brain. As teenagers don’t have a fully formed prefrontal cortex, they act in a way that feels like they have less regard for the outcome.
The part of the brain that’s responsible for the reward system, called striatum releases dopamine that makes them biased towards actions that give them instantaneous rewards. This is how teenagers are also associated with impulsivity, a lack of responsibility and an attraction towards money. The upside to this behavior in teens is they also have the ability to confront new challenges unlike adults who are risk averse.
The still developing teenage brains are eager for peer engagement. As they enter middle school, teenagers want to meet peer expectations. Sometimes peer expectations can be in direct conflict with parental expectations. What is cool with his peers might be an absolute no no for a child’s parent.
How teens think:
Kids are ruled by physiological changes they’re undergoing and as a result their decisions are governed by emotions. That makes them seem less predictable, volatile and moody.
They are constantly judging themselves, but, they don’t like to lie. Instead, they withhold information which produces the same effect as telling a lie.
Even while they are worried about disappointing their parents, they mostly act to impress their peers.
They seek safety in groups. Ask any child why their play video games or use so much of social media, and the response is unanimous. “Its because, everyone is doing it. There’s nothing else to do.” Because children feel like peers are the only ones who understand them, and if they’re doing it, so should they.
How teens make decisions:
Teenage is the age of many firsts and as a result, the pull of novelty in decision making is high. Otherwise, at what age would one experience their first love, their first paycheck, their first car ride as a driver, and ultimately their first taste at independence?
Novelty, along with danger, and unpredictability sharply increases the rewards and the feel good hormones called Dopamine that occur in a teenager’s brain. And these dopamine spikes contribute in a major way in their decision making process.
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