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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Helping Your Son Make Good Decisions, Brain Development’s Key Role

Oct 31, 2015 09:14PM
During adolescence, the brain is under construction. An adolescent’s decisions will be centered around what the he wants: fun, friends and independence. He wants to have more control over his life, and he needs someone to take care of basic necessities like food, shelter and love. There is also a focus on what he doesn’t want, like arguments with parents, conflicts with friends, social drama, loss of privileges and adults telling him what to do. Through an MRI of an adolescent’s brain, research has shown that the frontal lobe is not fully developed and won’t be until a person’s mid-20’s. This means they are more prone to making poor decisions during this time. We can help our children avoid risky, impulsive behavior by teaching them good decision making skills until their mental capacity to handle emotionally charged situations and consequences catch up. Until then, your child may be making the best decisions he can.

Jay Giedd and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) studies may offer some hope to teenagers suffering from behavioral or emotional problems. The fact that the decision making centers of the brain continue to develop well into the early twenties could mean that troubled teenagers still have the time, as well as the physiology, to learn how to control their impulsive behaviors.

The results from these studies do not mean that a teenager will always make irrational decisions. They do, however, suggest that teenagers need guidance as their brains develop, especially in regards to controlling emotional impulses in order to make rational decisions. It is becoming clear that the adolescent brain is a work in progress and that parents and educators can help this progress along through open communication and clear boundaries.

It’s important to start a discussion with your son on how the brain works while teaching him some skills that will aid him when emotional stimulating events present themselves. Yvette Long, executive director of Platinum Minds and certified counselor and life coach, has implemented a seven-step process of teaching adolescents decision making skills with great success. To begin, review a recent decision your son has made in order to help him learn to evaluate his choices. Work with him through these questions:

1. What do you think you could have done differently? 2. How do you wish you had done differently? 3. What other options might you have thought of? 4. How do you think your decision turned out? 5. Are you pleased with how things turned out? 6. Was the decision you made your best option in hindsight? 7. If he isn’t pleased with the outcome, ask him to reevaluate the decision made.

Let him know that it’s important for you to respect his ability to make decisions so you can trust him and worry less when he’s out of your sight. Helping him to understand that he’s at high risk for making risky decisions because of his brain development will help him to understand why this process is so important. Be patient throughout this process and take solace in the fact that your child’s brain is still developing and learning how to make mature decisions.

Yvette Long, MA CPC is certified in guidance and an instructor of psychology. She is the author of “Aspire To Excellence” and president of Aspire, a teen consulting firm, which provides one-to-one consulting to young men. For information, call 908-566-0145 or visit AspireExcellence.com.

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