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What Decisions Should T(w)eens be Allowed to Make?

Teen boyDo you ever find yourself questioning whether you are making the right decision for your adolescent? I believe in giving kids choices when I can. Adolescents resent that they have so little control over their lives. But, there are some important decisions they should not be making for themselves. If you need something to make you feel more competent making important decisions for your child, think about the following.

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health and McGill University write, "[The prefrontal cortex] is particularly interesting to scientists because it acts as the CEO of the brain, controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood. As the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers can reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better." (See Adolescent Brains are Works in Progress.)

The researchers also say that, "there is fairly widespread agreement that adolescents take more risks at least partly because they have an immature [pre]frontal cortex, because this is the area of the brain that takes a second look at something and reasons about a particular behavior."

This explains why parents must know where their adolescents are, what they are doing, who they are with, and when they will be home. Their teen may not be able to make the best decisions without guidance. Teenagers make critical mistakes that may be attributable to their immature prefrontal cortex.

It is important that teens remain involved in academics and positive activities during the time their brains are forming. According to Dr. Jay Giedd, one of the lead researchers, "If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive."

An additional caution is that alcohol and drugs can permanently damage the prefrontal cortex during this most important time of development. This is an important message that parents can convey to their children when they ask, "Why can’t I have a drink?" The answer is, "Because the part of your brain that helps you make high-level decisions and solve difficult problems is still forming. If you damage it with alcohol, you will be making poor decisions for your whole life."

I asked my middle school health class, "Should the drinking age be lowered?"

Several adamantly said, "No!"

"Why not?"

"The prefrontal cortex needs to finish growing," was their reply as they placed their hands on their forehead.

Feel confident in yourself as a parent. Your child should not be making every decision by themselves. Parents especially need to make the decisions when they relate to safety or to their child’s academic success. They need you to take charge.

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