Keeping teenagers safe is not always an easy task at a time of life that includes milestones like, gulp, learning to drive or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
What’s more, parents should understand that the teenage brain is not necessarily an ally in this endeavor. After all, brain maturation isn’t finished until their twenties.
“The emotional part of the brain, called the limbic system, develops before the rational part of the brain,” explains Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and author of American Girl’s popular Care and Keeping of You series.
“In middle school or high school, the part of your brain that takes over decision making is the part that is ruled by motivations, feelings, friends,” explains Natterson.
“That drives a certain set of decisions that might not be smart decisions.” Take the answer to this question: Should I ever drink and drive? It’s not so cut and dry for a teen.
“The part of the brain that knows the right answer works, but it’s overpowered by the part of the brain that is very emotional when your teenager is in a group of friends,” Natterson explains. That is, a teenager’s desire to please his or her friends can win out against the teenager’s understanding that drinking and driving is a really bad idea.
So, what to do?
Forget following your teenager around. Not going to happen.
Instead, says Natterson, talk to your teenagers about teenage brain development.
“I try to teach kids that they should not put themselves in positions where they’re going to potentially make bad decisions because their brain is not necessarily wired to make the best decisions all the time,” Natterson says.
Sure, you’ll probably get an eye roll or two during this and subsequent conversations. But if it makes your teenager think twice, then that’s a win.