New research shows that the frontal lobe of the brain, the areas responsible for judgment and the ability to consider consequence, may not be fully developed until the early twenties. In addition, the nucleus accumbens (an area that has to do with impulsivity and responds somewhat with the idea “that felt good, so lets do it again”) is more active in adolescence.
This combination is consistent with what we often see and fear in teens, the impulsive, risk taking teenager. Is this an excuse for parents to say there is nothing they can do to prevent their teen from doing bad things? No, it is not. What this does mean is that parents and their supervision is needed even more than previously thought.
Kids who are being supervised, having limits set, and are being told the risks and concerns will respond to that and behave more safely and appropriately. Unfortunately, many parents are busy trying to be their child’s friend, to be a “cool parent” and to avoid confrontation.
This takes an already less than optimal situation and makes it worse. No boundaries means that teens will be following their urges and taking those risks. Telling your teen that they need to prove and earn their responsibility will give them incentive to act more maturely.
Emotional experience also changes brain structure. This means that acting out will result in gratification and possibly amplification of the risk taking structures. It also means that exercising your frontal lobe, “the house of judgment,” will help to strengthen those parts as well.
This information should guide parents in providing the “frontal lobe” that their teen may be lacking and also make clear that guiding healthy behavior will develop those skills in a teen as they move through adolescence into adulthood.