The Impulsive Teenage Brain

Teenagers really will go out of their way to convince us that, “I’m all growed up. I’m capable of making decisions for myself and don’t need to be parented.”

However, science tells us something very different. Research has lead us to fascinating findings that, I believe, we should be teaching all teenagers about. Whilst I’ve come across these findings elsewhere in more detail, they are simply summarised in this recent article;

KQED Mindshift – Why Teens Are Impulsive, Addiction-Prone and Should Protect Their Brains

In my view, far too many parents and educators working with teenagers seek to use control, the carrot and the stick and coercion to manage their behaviour. I believe it is far more effective to share the scientific evidence with them and to help them to figure out the implications. This is much less likely to develop in to confrontational situations, rank defiance and deviousness to find ways around the rules being imposed. In fact, it’s far more likely that teens who understand the science will want to set up safe mechanisms when they can call upon their carers to protect them from themselves.

As one interesting aside – I believe the science here has all the evidence for why we need to be careful in thinking about things like the age limits for driving, but also for voting! In a number of countries there has been pressure to lower the cut-off age for voting, the argument being that young people want a voice and want to use it. Older adults are not very engaged with the political process and voter turnout is often low. The argument is that youngsters would be more politically engaged. However, I believe this scientific evidence shows that they are still vulnerable, too easily exploited and that, quite frankly, their higher tolerance for risk due to lower levels of myelin shouldn’t put us all at risk from bad electoral decisions!

Keeping in mind the mismatch between teenagers’ own beliefs about how responsible and ‘in control’ they are, and the scientific reality, the article has some useful warnings and advice about teens and screens/ digital stimuli, addiction risks and even the brain damage risks of single incidents of heavy drinking. I don’t believe we can wrap them in cotton wool or that, “do what we say, or else” is the way forward, but mature reasoned discussion armed with the simple scientific facts. Such conversations need to happen at non-critical times – not waiting until something goes wrong. All you’ll get then is an ego clash.

In shot, we can do more to protect our teens by arming them and ourselves with correct information.


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