Get in the Way Tip #2 – Part 1

The Teen Brain: Finish Strong

Fact: If a teen does adolescence well, adulthood gets much easier.

You’ve gotten your kids this far in life and regardless of how we got to this point or how well we’ve done, it’s time to finish what we started. Today’s Tip: Finish Strong

This is an exciting time for our teens where they experience increased cognitive abilities, learning, and memory due to the brain’s ability to rewire its connections in response to experiences. What triggers this transition? Physical development (aka puberty), which also initiates brain development. As a teen not only am I dealing with the stresses of adjusting to physical changes, I’m learning to deal with intellectual, social and emotional development too. It’s like BOOM…here it is…figure it out.

Teen brain development is the most important reason to protect our kids form using drugs and alcohol. The brain develops from the back to the front. One of the last areas of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex – this is the area responsible for impulse control, judgement and risk assessment, delaying gratification, planning and organizational skills. I bet this explains a lot about your teen. Talking back, blurting out something without thinking. Some teens can’t even find their room let alone their books or homework assignments. They will develop questionable friendships or may agree to join in questionable behaviors. The prefrontal cortex will continue to develop into the mid-20’s.

Physical development is pretty much on autopilot. Once it starts it just happens. The intellectual, social and emotional growth has to be nurtured and developed. Drug use, alcohol use or severe trauma will threaten their emotional growth. Part of that growth is becoming aware of emotions and figuring out what to do with those emotions without hurting yourself. It is also important to learn to deal with emotions rather than them rather than avoid them.

Fact: Teens that learn strategies to regulate emotions have an easier time as an adult.

Here are a few key points:
1. Lack of sleep increases irritability and impulsiveness and reduces a teens ability to regulate emotions.
2. There are kids who may look and act mature but have not matured emotionally.
3. Some teens may be gifted and more intelligent but not emotionally or socially mature.
4. Early puberty development is associated with high risk behaviors across a range of outcomes especially for girls.

During this the teen brain is hardwiring itself creating a foundation for adulthood. Thoughts, feelings and actions repeated over time become a set of neurons that become pathways. Those pathways are used for decision-making and behavior patterns in adulthood. Use of alcohol or drugs during this period creates pathways that often lead to poor decision making and a pattern of questionable choices resulting in a lifetime of struggle. This is a key reason 90% of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol started using in their teenage years. This is the most important reason to keep our kids from getting involved with drugs or alcohol.

We know drug and alcohol use hinders brain development.
• Hinders impulse control
• Hinders judgement
• Hinders risk assessment
• Hinders delayed gratification
• Hinders emotional development and the ability to handle problems, stress, relationships and more

Here’s another very important point:
Also happening are elaborate changes in the dopamine system of the brain. The dopamine system influences learning about what is rewarding in the environment. And if that’s not enough, throw this into the mix; the teen brain focuses on excitement and risk – that’s why teens get bored easily. Ever heard this response: How was school today? Boring…

What’s exciting to many of them?
Rumors, gossip, drama, social media, sports, theater, parties, who’s dating who, and high risk behaviors that may involve sneaking out of the house at night, sex, stealing alcohol or pot from home, taking a few prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet, and one more thing; not getting caught. All these high risk behaviors have what the teen brain focuses on excitement and risk

Our job as parents is to foil these high risk behavior attempts. And I might note here, the #1 Killer of teens: unintended risky behavior. The teen focus is on the here and now. Future scenarios or consequences are not part of the thinking process for most teen brains.
1. Teens place more weight on perceived benefits and excitement than on potential risks.
2. Teens value the social rewards for taking risks. Their priorities are as follows: being accepted, being liked, a sense of belonging, and social engagement; thus, many follow the crowd…aka peer pressure.
3. Evaluation center of the brain downplay the significance of a negative outcome.

In our next segment, The Teen Brain – Pt. 2, we’ll focus on what we can do as parents to Get in the Way.
Because we know if a teen does adolescence well adulthood gets much easier. And our goal as parents is to help our teens do adolescence well.

Find this and other useful information at

Until next time, show me the hand and remember…
To Say Something, To Do Something.
Let’s Get in the Way together!


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