Parents there is something you can do that can make your life as a parent much easier. You can remember that your children, especially your teenagers, are children not little adults. Many parents expect their teenagers to be able to function as adults. It is an easy mistake to make. Teenagers are as tall as adults, as strong as adults and biologically function as adults. However, their brains do not function as adults and therefore teenagers often act like children, but look like adults. When this occurs, parents often get mad because they do not know are they dealing with a young adult or a child. As a result of this confusion, arguments tend to happen.
Remember when a baby is born their brain is still placid. What this means is their brains are still developing. Just like the “soft spot” in a baby’s skull. When they are born all of the bones in a baby’s skull have not grown together. They are still developing. In fact the skull is not fully developed until the age of 30.
This placidly is there usually until a child is around 18 years old. If any of your children have had a head injury around age 9 or 12 and the physician tells you their body can compensate, this is what they are referring to. Since their central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is not completely developed, if there is an injury, their neurological system can find away to bypass the injury.
This is a wonderful thing for children considering how often they are injured. However, there is a cost to this developing neurological system. Children’s frontal and prefrontal cortex do not fully develop until the age of 18 or 21. Therefore, while they may look like an adult at times they will act and make decisions as child because developmentally they still have the brain of a child.
What does this mean to you as a parent? It means that you cannot expect your teenager to reason as an adult would reason. Children and teens typically have concrete reasoning skills until their brain is fully developed. In other words, there thinking tends to black and white. They have difficulties handling ambiguous situations. When the brain is fully developed then they have abstract reasoning and can think a head about consequences. Until such time their ability to do so is limited. This makes teenagers more vulnerable to peer pressure and making impulsive decisions which can result in trouble for the teenagers that they never expected.
If parents will remember this fact and adjust to it, you can decrease your stress. This is why I recommend parents develop behavior contracts and agreements. You can find many template for these contracts on line. If you Google Behavior contracts, you will find a number of free templates that you can adapt for your family. These contracts reduce the need for a child or teen to have to do abstract thinking right on the spot. When you make agreements and contracts with your teen you assist them with and model abstract reasoning. You also increase the likelihood that they will make a good choice versus a poor choice. Additionally, these contracts assist teenagers in assuming responsibility for their behavior. If they violate the contract and you impose a consequence, you are only following the agreement you made with them. The consequence is a result of their choice they made not you being mean.
Also if you remember the limitations your child is dealing with, if they make a mistake you can respond in a more appropriate manner. If you expect them to reason like an adult and they make a mistake, you are going to be more stern in your reaction. If you remember that they cannot handle abstract reasoning yet, your response and consequences you set will be more appropriate. As a result, your teen will learn more.
Remember, we are always telling kids you will have to wait until you are an adult. Therefore, when they make a mistake even if they are 15, we need to remember they are not an adult yet and respond in that manner.
Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience working with teens. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino or his private practice visit his websites at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or http://www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/drrubino3.