If They Only Had a Brain…

When my kids were toddlers, I was told to make note of how they acted because it would be coming back to me in the form of teenagers. I figured if I could handle it once, I could do it again. The only problem with that is trying to tell a boy who is now taller than I am to go sit in time out. But… still, we persevere. Thinking surely it will get better in a year or so.

And yet, a dear friend of mine tells me the problem is that my children don’t have brains. No, really. Apparently, the pre-frontal cortex of the teenage brain is itty bitty. Okay, undeveloped, at least. The National Institute of Mental Health calls it a work in progress. If you don’t know what the front of your brain controls, think higher level decision making, social behavior, judgement. That explains the mood swings, over reactions, and the slaps to the forehead followed by “Doh!” whenever something profoundly stupid is done.

And here I am encouraging my brainless boy to finish up his first lessons so he can go get his driver’s permit. What am I thinking? What are we thinking as a society? Let’s give underdeveloped brains the keys to a 2,000 plus pound vehicle with the ability to travel at 80 plus miles per hour.

Case in point: I delivered a meal to a new family out in the ‘burbs last evening. The sweet little girl was “throwing” a soccer ball to her dad in the front yard. She would pick it up, toddle over to him and hurl it right at his feet. She was so cute. Now, flash forward 15 years and there was a sweet little daddy’s girl driving a car stuffed full of more girls sitting on each others laps and weaving in and out of traffic. I saw them coming up behind me on the highway as I headed home. I thought “Wow. Please God, protect them.” And then I saw the oversized pickup truck jammed full of boys swerving in and out of traffic, trying to catch the car full of girls. Once they passed me I watched brake lights ahead of me as other motorists tried to avoid getting hit. Maybe what I should pray is, “Please God, give them brains. Now!”

The problem is that the prefrontal cortex area of the brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. There is nothing quick about that. But it does explain my friends who tell me to just wait until my kids go off to college. That is where they will realize how much they love and miss me and will turn into normal human beings. Yeah, because that’s when their brain is finally done cooking.

But, until then, it just makes me more aware of how diligent we must be as parents (or adults who work with youth) to help teens filter and understand their choices and the consequences of those choices. It’s not nagging if they really can’t get it the first five times we say it. It’s repetitive reinforcement. And if that reinforcement comes with a bribe, oops, reward, then all the better.  The HowStuffWorks folks over at Discovery have explained that when offered rewards, teenagers display stronger responses than children or adults.It can be a bad thing if those rewards are drugs or alcohol that the teen seeks out for him or herself. But, I’m sure we parents and adults can be more creative than that.

What ways are you being creative in raising or working with teens?