Why does your teenager think he knows everything?
As the parent of a teenager, you strive to help your child make informed decisions. You provide direction. You provide facts. You shower them with love and attention. You chat with other parents. You remember how you felt as a teenager and the consequences of unwise choices. You think you have prepared your teenager for success.
But then you find out that your teenager ignored all your advice and did exactly what he wanted to do all along!
While this is frustrating and upsetting for parents, there’s a reason teens act this way. The prefrontal cortex, an important area of your teen’s brain, is underdeveloped.
Indeed, the prefrontal brain only reaches full maturity at the age of 25! That’s why, even after you explain the risks and repercussions, your teen may continue to make terrible decisions.
What exactly is the prefrontal cortex?
The prefrontal cortex is commonly referred to as the “CEO of the brain”. Another way to think of it is like the brakes on a car. The problem with teenagers is that they have gas (impulses) but a poor braking system (an undeveloped prefrontal cortex).
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for:
- See the big moment
- cause and effect
- Manage emotions and delay reactions
Even if your teen thinks he can make mature decisions independently, he can’t. There are significant development gaps. Your teen needs your help to think through all of their choices and their implications.
Inside your teen’s brain
When children are very young, their brains go through a rapid growth spurt. By age six, their brains had grown to 90-95% of adult size. Although the early years are crucial for brain development, the brain still requires significant remodeling before it can function like an adult brain.
This brain remodeling happens rapidly during adolescence and continues until your child reaches their mid-twenties. Age, experience, and hormonal changes throughout puberty all influence brain development.
Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teens may rely more on the amygdala, part of the brain, to make decisions and solve problems than adults. Emotions, impulses, hostility, and innate behavior are all linked to the amygdala.
You can help your child’s cognitive development by implementing the following strategies:
- Empathy should be encouraged. Talk about your feelings, your child’s feelings, and the feelings of others.
- Emphasize how different people’s perspectives and circumstances are. Remind your teen that one action can have a big impact on a large number of people.
- Be sure to emphasize the immediate and long-term implications of the actions. Discuss how your teen’s behavior now affects the present and the future.
- Try to match your language level to your child’s level of understanding. You can check your child’s understanding of key information by asking them to tell you what they just heard in their own words.
- Help your teen develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. Follow a process of describing problems, proposing solutions, and discussing outcomes acceptable to everyone.