The brains of people under 21 are still developing, new technologies are helping us understand this. As I write I reminisce of times I was proving this theory true myself and didn’t even know it.
Specifically excitement-seeking and increased risk-taking are normal activities of the adolescent brain, they are hardwired to look for intense experiences. I imagine this normal desire is there to ensure the human race survives, in the biggest picture. It’s the young body getting ready for something big to happen.
This high can be fed by the group as they validate each other, cheering on those brave enough to push the limits of social acceptability. Once buying into the mob mentality of the moment certainly there is no individual reflection. On top of that is the fear of not being accepted pushing teens to join the mob.
Substance use and abuse is more quickly developed into dependency by some teens because they don’t yet have the judgement to keep the level of use under control. This use can cause severe changes to the prefrontal cortex – damage that may not be reversible and can lead to lifelong problems affecting all areas of life. Wow that explains some things.
Here are some suggestions I’ve found for those of us in the difficult predicament of parenting rebellious teens:
- Acknowledge the lame-brain actions of our teens are just that, natural proclivities of their brain at the age it is. Explain the science to them, and realize this doesn’t give an excuse but a reason for them to be hyper vigilant about decision-making especially as part of a group.
- Positive group activities can give the teen a much needed mob to plug into. Kids are involved in healthy activities gravitate to kids who are on the positive side. Unfortunately the frustration is another scientific fact, having gone down one path for a long time that path wears deeper and deeper and changing that path is a difficult thing. I suppose extreme situations call for extreme measures if change is to take place will apply here.
- The need for the high of risk-taking can be filled in non-destructive ways. Amusement parks, travel adventures, and participation in challenging activities like sports, theatre or music can fill the need for a rush.
- Give them rules they can push against that won’t end in tragedy. I think this is genius, along the lines of giving a toddler choices like “do you want a ham sandwich or macaroni and cheese” instead of asking them “what do you want to eat”. Give the options that fill their need to be in control of themselves. As this applies to teens, choose things where you can engage in a struggle but ultimately let them win without hurting themselves, for instance forbid certain hair color or fashion. If they choose to “buck the system” neither of these things will hurt them and it will allow them to rebel with a purple Mohawk instead of drinking & driving to get their rush.
- Which leads to: keep things in perspective. Hair grows back, color fades out, the lip ring hole will disappear once they’re done with it. A damaged brain will stick with them however.
- Don’t be afraid to parent. In the past I have been the biggest wuss in know in this area. However, after researching the cause and effects of filling the need for a rush in destructive ways I got over the wuss part real quick. When things reach critical mass it is time to not only set some serious rules for the teen but do some soul searching about parental activities. Do as I say not as I do may work for a while but at some point doesn’t keep air in it.
- Educate your teen about substance use and abuse. Permanent changes in the brain that can be a roadblock to success in all areas of adult life of course aren’t worth some rebellious fun earlier in life. Of course that is true, but this can be challenging to get through a teen brain. As part of the big picture, with other strong parenting in place, this is certainly essential for them to know. Perhaps at some point this knowledge will come to the surface at a critical moment. Perhaps not. But worth the chance.
- Goals? Maybe if the teen has thought about things they want in their future it will give them something to protect in the present. Maybe if they have something to look forward to that is of value they will have hope today. We can discuss (and model) achieving our own goals, and have them contemplate what theirs are. Do they want to go to college? What is their passion in work? What do they love to do and can they take it to the next level, whether it be work-related or more of a leisure pursuit? Do they want a family and children of their own someday?