Jeremy Spence is now seeing clients at Safe Passages Counseling, and specializes in helping adolescents and family members of adolescents. He also provides grief and loss counseling. Jeremy is a Counselor Trainee and has a wealth of experience as a pastor. You can contact him by calling our offices at 513-644-8023.
I’m pleased to share his first blog post!!
“I Wasn’t Thinking!” – Thoughts on the Teenage Brain by Jeremy Spence, CT
Have you ever wondered whether or not a teenager was telling you the truth when they uttered the words, “I wasn’t thinking mom/dad.” Can that really be true? Did they really not think about the consequences of driving that fast on the highway? Questions like this are some of the hardest for a parent to face when raising a teenager. As someone who has walked alongside parents and teens for more than ten years, I can attest to how many times a child has done something their parents could not understand, and the question was asked, “What were you thinking?.” Unfortunately, many times the answer was simply, “I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t.”
Yet, I have wondered if this is true – are teens really not thinking, or is it just an excuse? Fortunately, new research is beginning to shed some light on the “teenage brain.” The October 2011 issue of National Geographic published an article that answered my question. Believe it or not, teens may not be lying when they state they weren’t thinking. In fact, new studies are showing the front part of the brain in teenagers is not fully formed until about age 25. Yes, this is the part of the brain that is responsible for critical thinking and understanding the consequences of actions.
The bad news is that our teenagers are really not thinking about what they are doing, though not all the time. The part of the brain that deals with instinct, excitement, adrenaline and the rush of the experience controls them – thus the lack of critical thinking. The teenage brain is also starting to upgrade all the connections and abilities, maturing even though maturity is not always demonstrated.
The good news is that parents have a longer period of time to mold and shape the very portion of the brain responsible for critical thinking and decision-making. The brain matures from the back to the front, and because of this more time is available for modeling healthy decision-making. Parents have the opportunity to instill the values and processes they feel are important over a longer period of time. As stated in the article, once the brain finishes maturing it becomes a semi-solid state. It is much easier to mold a learning brain than to re-learn what has been solidified.
The next time your teenager says he/she was not thinking, maybe it is time to cut them some slack; it very well could be true. Instead of berating them, start working to help them process their thoughts so next time they know what to do. Beyond this let’s remember we all made mistakes as a teenager. Your teen also needs someone to love and accept them – even when their brain misfires. New research says this will happen, but parents can help mold the connections that will last a lifetime.
What are your thoughts on the teenage brain? Do you have any questions, or advice you would like to share with other parents? If so, please comment below.