Why Your Teen Makes Bad Choices...
Many parents call me or ask during a child’s (or teen’s) counseling session, “What is wrong with my sweet baby?” Well, if you ask your child, it’s probably that you still refer to him or her as your baby…But in reality, your sweet child is still in there, tucked away in a compartment in the brain getting upgraded. When our children reach the age of about 12, their brain does some dramatic upgrading…think an extensive overhaul.
It’s not a secret; adults think their adolescents and teenagers make some bad choices, to put it nicely. Stealing cars, driving fast, taking drugs, jumping off things, ‘play fighting’ with their friends…they just can’t seem to think things through. Now, I learned a long time ago that the brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches 24…the age is now 25. And the actual brain is supposed to be done growing around age 6, the skull just thickens after that age. What is happening is parts of the brain actually do shut down; this is why you might see your adolescent or teenager revert back to the behavior they had when they were toddlers (if your daughter is 13 she probably acts a lot like she did when she was 3, 14 like 4, and so on). Makes sense to me. Most young people are not able to think through situations or problems logically or in great detail. Now, some are better at it than others but, for the most part, trying to be logical with a young person is quite the waste of time.
We put a lot of stock in our teens, I mean they've been alive for xx (amount of double digit years) they should know better...and care, right? Good news! They usually do know better. Bad news, a lot of times they don't know why they made the choice they did. This is one reason teens need their parents around probably as much as toddler does.
How do you manage your child when his or her brain isn’t fully functioning? Unfortunately there's not one single strategy that works...and your teen will probably fight you all the way through the teen years (you don't know anything, remember?) BUT stay consistent. As much as I've seen a decline in social skills across the board, if your child is communicating with you about things that are important to him/her via text, then text. I know many teens are too intimidated to talk to their parents face-to-face about problems, girls, boys, or whatever and prefer to at least start the conversation via text. Fine, cave. But do talk to them face-to-face as well. Another good spot is to have those deep conversations in the car, it's hard for them to get away when you're driving down the highway.
It's super important that you LISTEN to them. That means you might have to bite your tongue occasionally. Use your filter...and just listen to your child. One of the things that works in counseling kids and teens is that the counselor listens. We do our best not to interject our judgments in the teen counseling session...Take my advice, just talk. Ask before you "fix" their problem...it's okay to problem solve with them, leaving them with a couple of options...Here's something extremely hard, let them make a not-so-good choice (as long as no one will get hurt) because they need to learn from their mistakes, that's how they gain experience. Another thing you can do is just be patient with them. Once you understand that their brain is changing and even they aren't aware, be a little more patient. Don't lower your standards or "give in" just be patient.
Teenagers are still children. Most can't wait "to get out on their own" and fight for independence. Give it to them but keep an eye out, just because your child is 16, that doesn't mean they are ready to make the right decision every time (I don't know about you, but as an adult sometimes I still make bad decisions). If you are struggling with any aspect of raising or "dealing with" your teen, seek family therapy. If your child just won't open up to you perhaps it's time to find some counseling for kids and teens to help guide them through some of the toughest upgrades of their lives (and ours too!)
Your TXKIDCOUNSELOR, Evan Woodall, MA, NCC, LPC