Here’s a short-course on the teenage brain that’ll answer one question every parent’s asked at least once: “What was my kid thinking?” It turns out, the rational part of their brain might not have been involved at all.
Education professor Dr. Sheryl Feinstein is the author of Inside the Teenage Brain. And she says that adults process information in the rational prefrontal cortex. But, in the teen brain, most of the heavy lifting is done by the emotion-oriented limbic center. So, when teenagers try to make a decision, their emotions take over.
To make things more difficult, hormonal changes during puberty magnify their emotions. That’s why your teen may sincerely believe you’ve ruined their life because you won’t let them go on school-night outing with some questionable friends.
Which brings us to another important fact for parents: Teens don’t feel peer pressure, they feel peer pleasure. Cornell University psychologist Dr. Valerie Reyna says that teens want to look cool in the eyes of others. And the pleasure centers of their brain are the most active when they get approval from someone their own age.
In other words, they get validation – and a burst of feel-good chemicals – when they do something their friends may like – even if they know it isn’t a good idea. And that makes them more likely to engage in risky behavior, like trying drugs, or getting into fights.
The good news is, by about age 17, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control takes over. And teens are able to see a more long-term view, and are less likely to participate in high-risk behavior. So, what should you do in the meantime? Research shows that teens who regularly hang with their parents have better social skills and make better decisions.