Parent to Parent: Blame teens’ bad behaviors on their brains | Parenting


By Jodie Lynn Parent to Parent

Q • My two teenage kids make horrible choices on just about everything. Is this because their dad left us a year ago? I’m lost, agitated, sad, mad and scared about what to do to bring them back down to earth and teach them how to actually think before jumping into decisions. What’s going on? Should I stop them from having contact with their dad?

From an expert • Blame the brain. The part of the brain that is responsible for future planning and regulating mood is called the prefrontal cortex. This is the last area of ​​the brain to develop with development continuing into the early mid-20s. It helps what impulsive and risk-taking behaviors. It allows us to think and plan for the future rather than act on emotion. At the same time, as it develops, it allows for greater awareness of one’s self in the world and to imagine how others perceive you.

This contributes to teens’ strong need to fit in and do what their friends are doing (peer pressure). The amygdala, or reptilian brain, makes sure we survive by telling us to eat, sleep, reproduce, etc. It’s also responsible for the fight or flight response. The amygdala is fully developed by adolescence and teens rely strongly on it for decision making.

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Teens are highly emotional and act on impulse and in ways that lead to immediate pleasure. Because they’re using the amygdala, they have strong urges, but limited ability to control them. Teens are heavily influenced by emotions in decision making because the rational part of their brain is still developing. When calm, they can access the rational part of their brains, but emotions often win out.

This can be confusing (and maybe infuriating) for parents because usually their teen knows what the appropriate and expected behaviors are. But they truly have difficulty thinking ahead when emotional. Believe me, even though I understand this, it is still extremely frustrating when my teenagers make bad choices. Have realistic expectations and remember that learning from poor choices is a normal and important part of growing up. Set limits and give them a clear sense of right and wrong until they are better able to do these things themselves. Give them time to make decisions. They need more time to make rational decisions than most adults. — Sharon Martin, licensed clinical social worker, in San Jose, California. Read more at

From Jodie Lynn • Normal teen emotions can sometimes leave us scratching our heads. Add peer pressure and throw in a divorce and it can quickly become mind boggling.

It’d be easy to blame your ex-husband for the bulk of the problems with your teenagers, but it’s probably not a good idea. Either way, share your concerns with him straightaway before their choices become disastrous to their lives and to those around them. It’s imperative to stay as calm as possible when talking to your kids because they may be angry and resentful due to the divorce.

If you and your ex work together, you may be able to get them to think before they act and try to impress upon them that they are not invincible; their choices can affect many people.

If your ex won’t help, take your kids to a professional counselor.

What’s more important right now, allowing my child to play sports and actually have a life or make her study harder because she missed out on so many classes last year and is behind? My husband says study. I’m trying to convince him that she needs to get her stress out through sports.

To share parenting tips or submit questions, write to: Parent to Parent, 2464 Taylor Road, Suite 131, Wildwood, MO 63040. Email: [email protected], or go to, which provides a secure and easy way to submit tips or questions. All tips must have city, state and first and last name or initials to be included in the column.

Jodie Lynn is an award-winning parenting columnist, author of five books and mother to three children. She and her family live in Wildwood.


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