Teenagers, full of youth and energy with so much potential but not known for being the most responsible. They’re not babies anymore so you may be looking at your teen as an adult. But the truth is there is still development happening in your teenager’s brain.
What part of the brain is still developing?
It’s the prefrontal cortex and this part of the brain is responsible for planning and decision making. Because the prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed in teenagers they depend more on the part of the brain called the amygdala to solve problems and make decisions. The amygdala is a part of the brain that is more emotional and impulsive. This can explain why you often see more impulsiveness, aggressiveness, and emotional behavior in teens, than in adults, when they need to plan and make decisions.
But there is hope. Teens can learn how to be responsible and make good choices.
So, how can you work with your teen so they become not only a responsible teenager now but turn into a responsible adult?
Encouraging your teen to be involved in a variety of activities can help their brain develop in a healthy way which can lead to more balanced decision-making skills.
The teenage years are also a great time to ask questions that help teens navigate to their own solutions.
Show That Choices Have Consequences
Letting teens make decisions but also letting them know that they will have to deal with the consequences is a great way to help them take more responsibility for their actions.
You can do this in a somewhat controlled way where the stakes are lower and start as young as you can.
For example, if your teen is being disorganized and not doing their homework, you may have to let them fail a bit at school for a wake-up call or let them experience some other consequence from the lack of studying and disorganization. Once they have experienced the consequence, you can let them choose how they would like to fix it. Try asking something like, “What do you need to do to change this situation?” or “How do you think this can be fixed?”
Coming up with their solution makes teens more motivated to follow through.
High School is going to be harder than middle school and college even more so. If your teen can learn to manage time and homework early it will be easier for them to be successful as the load increases.
When they do have to reap the consequences of a poor choice you can ask them what they would do differently if they had it to do all over again and help them develop a plan to do better next time including eliminating any obstacles that could get in the way.
Teens can make much better decisions in a moment when they have prepared ahead to meet the challenge.
Create boundaries for your teen and yourself. If you are still doing everything for your teen, you need to back off a bit and allow them to become responsible for more tasks. They can be responsible for tasks that benefit them like making their bed and doing their own laundry. But it is also important to encourage them to help others. You can brainstorm with your teen some things that they can take responsibility for that contributes to the family, school, and the community.
Your teen can learn that how they manage their time and resources affects not just themselves but others too. You can also help them learn that they will not get everything thing they want in life right away through delayed gratification.
If your teen is wanting something, special clothes for school, a laptop, or even a car you can let them know they need to save for it. This is a good way to teach financial responsibility.
Poor health choices that teens often make can cause a lack of energy, acne, loss of sleep, and more. Help your teen develop good habits by setting boundaries around sleep and nighttime activities and by encouraging good food and exercise habits. Just make sure to not demonize foods and teach that there is a balance to all things.
Be The Example
The hardest one. What does your teen see you doing? If you want your teen to read books, but you are always on your phone and never read, they will not likely develop this habit.
If you want your teen to take care of their body but you are always body shaming yourself and have poor health habits they will watch and learn from that. Teens will do more of what they see you do than of what you say.
Be humble and honest with your teen when you know you have failed or are lacking in an area. We all fail and have areas of weakness. But then show your teen that you get right back up again and keep trying. Let them know that resilience and grit are the keys to success.
Your teen may be going through some challenging times as they are trying to finish growing up. Be understanding and supportive but strong and you will have a responsible teen that is ready for adulthood.