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Teen Brains Make Lousy Decisions

Teen Brains Wired to Make Lousy Decisions

Ever scratch your head and wonder what your teen was thinking when they made a decision that was clearly going to have negative consequences? You saw the right choice; why couldn’t they?

Two reasons: teen brains aren’t fully grown up, and teens use a different part of the brain to make decisions than you do.

Get used to scratching your head for a few more years. Your teen’s “good decision making” part of the brain won’t mature until they are in their late twenties. This slow growing part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex. Think of it as the CEO of the brain. It is responsible for rational, logical decision making, future planning and understanding consequences. Since this part of the brain is still maturing, teen brains’ are wired to rely more another area of the brain to make decisions. It’s called the limbic system.

The limbic system is the part of the brain that is responsible for what scientists call the 4 F’s: feeding, fighting, fleeing and sexual reproduction. (You can fill in that F.) The 4 F’s are all about survival, pleasure in the moment, and emotions. The limbic system is fabulous to help your teen run away from or fight off danger, but lousy at helping them decide if sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night with their buddies is a stellar move.

It is important for parents to understand the teen brain so they don’t flip out when their teen makes lousy decisions Parents should use those lousy decisions as teachable moments rather than shame theirteen and scream, “What were you thinking?” The fact of the matter is they probably weren’t thinking. At least not like an adult would think. With the limbic system as the “steering wheel” for teens, sneaking out in the middle of the night feels like a fine choice when it is suggested.

One way to help your teen learn to connect more with their prefrontal cortex is to ask your teen to think through consequences ofactions before they are presented with the situation. Let them “role play.” You may need to list possible outcomes of decisions so they have a better understanding of what might happen. The key is to present the information in a neutral way and allow your teen to have as much control over their choices as possible . If you always make your teen’s decisions, they won’t have the chance to figure out their own lives. Some research suggests that teens who take some risks and don’t get hurt by them, actually grow up to be more successful than teens who don’t take some risks. That’s not to say you want your teen making lousy decisions all the time. But look on the bright side. They are growing and learning, one lousy decision at a time.

Labels Not Just On Your Clothes

Labels… not just on your clothes anymore.

Labels. One of the hottest things going to evaluate if another person is anywhere in the same universe of “cool” with you. Teens sum up one another in a single glance of icons on clothing. That’s disturbing in and of itself as we aren’t the sum of our labels. But what’s more disturbing, are the labels we attach to others.

“Bitch.” “Whore.” “Asshole.” “Jerk.” You get my point.

When people become labels to us, they stop being human beings. They become “things.” They become the enemy. They are no longer a part of humanity, they are outcast to some other region, not worthy of our respect, attention, caring and empathy. That’s scary as that’s how violence begins.

One teen recently told me she met a girl who was a “real bitch” as she put it. Just hated her! After accidentally bumping into the “enemy” girl, they had a long honest talk. The girl discovered the “bitch” had been recently abused and was not coping well. Her bitchiness was a result of her trauma. The label of “bitch” melted away, and the girl reached out and helped her now new friend. Moral of the story?


I know I sound like your mom right now, but girls….go out this weekend, look past the alligators or polo players, the cool plaid, the juicy…whatever the hip hot labels are in your neck of the woods, and look past the label you have given someone you don’t like very much. Can you do U TURN and look again? Can you see they are human, and figuring out life, JUST LIKE YOU? Can you open your heart just a tiny bit? Are you willing to LISTEN to their story?

Let me know how it went. Let me know how good your heart felt afterwords.

Casual Sex Not Harmful

A new study claims casual sex isn’t emotionally harmful. I disagree. Here’s why:

When I interviewed hundreds of guys from around the world for my book, The Secret Guys Wish You Knew About Love,  28 percent of them claimed they felt remorse, or even depressed, after giving away their virginity to the wrong girl. Yes, you read it right. Some guys actually care about their virginity.  The casual sex they had certainly wasn’t emotionally healthy for them!

Girls tell me they often use casual sex as a way to try to win a guys heart. After a dozen or so encounters, the girls have to ask the “Dreaded Question,” other wise known as DTR: “Determining the Relationship.” Girls who want a committed relationship often find themselves hurt when the guys they have been hooking up with doesn’t want any commitment.

Can casual sex be harmless? Perhaps, if both parties know exactly what they are doing, know their are no hidden agenda’s and it is a mutual exchange of pleasure and no one will get labeled afterwards.  But how many teens are mature enough to handle all of that and how does a girl avoid being labeled?  I have talked to thousands of teens over the years. In fact, one of the most pressing issue for teen girls is sex. They are terribly confused about the topic. The media and our culture tells them that to be lovable they have to be hot, sexy, and know how to tease and please. It doesn’t encourage our girls to explore the depths of who they are as people and to bring forth their  innate goodness.

I have been in the trenches with teens for over a decade. I have heard the stories of the negative results of hooking up. I’m not buying the study that says casual sex isn’t emotionally harmful. For some teens, can be very emotionally damaging.

Moms Worry About

I am the mother of eighteen year old twin sons and a thirteen year old daughter. It has been extremely exciting and challenging having teens in the home and I am realizing now that things will be different with my teenage daughter.

Some of the things that worry me about my teenage daughter is being an effective parent and yet maintaining an open door policy on all topics. I believe in an ongoing relationship with all teens, and have had that relationship with my sons.

My daughter is very interesting and easy to get along with for the most part, and she has an overall great personality. But boy does she have moods, which I know is expected. I am learning though to still be the parent even if it means my daughter is upset with me for part of the day. I realize that if what I am talking about makes sense, once she calms down, she will apologize and I will apologize if I went overboard, and life goes on.

It is very important to me that we maintain a great relationship, built on mutual respect and understanding and that being an effective mother now, will actually improve our future adult relationship.

One of the biggest concerns I have is my daughter always having a great self esteem, and believing in herself, and overcoming any adversity she meets along the way. I have realized that teenage girls can be cruel, without necessarily meaning any harm, and they make unkind comments about other people’s weight, the way they dress etc. Some comments can be very hurtful, and I am sometimes worried about this but I always tell her that she has a choice. I emphasize to her that she can’t control what other people say or do, and that all she can control, is how she responds to what is being said. I always tell her that she can choose to let others hurt her or not and hopefully, this will eventually become part of her life as she meets adversity in life. I am teaching her to learn whatever she can from every encounter, good or bad, and to let go what she has no control over.

I think every parent worries about their daughters getting into the right relationship, and not being abused. We want our daughters to get married and have a great marriage. With a family with older brothers, and a father who are all very protective, this is an ongoing topic of conversation. My daughter is always being told how well she should be treated by her eventual partners. We always discuss the topic of sex, yes even at this age, and how she should not allow herself to be abused by any man.

My one concern, which I am always talking to her about, is that she will always feel comfortable with me, and discuss any concerns or questions, in her future relationships. We currently have a great relationship, which I hope will come in very handy when she starts getting involved in the relationships that will invariably come.

Another interesting concern is about personal appearance. That is where we have the greatest disagreements. I love dressing up and I always wanted a daughter to be able to dress her up. My teenager has a very strong personality, and her own ideas, and dressing up is not one of her top priorities. After fighting and trying to impose my will, I have finally backed off. I realize that so long as she is appropriately clad, and not exposing her body I need to be thankful and it is not worth destroying my relationship with her over this. I am learning to pick my battles.

We talk a lot about appropriate nutrition and not overeating. Initially there was a lot of resistance, and pouting and this was one of the cases where I was in a dilemma about whether I insist and risk my daughter being upset, or do I let it go. I thought it was important to work with her on this one, and now we are getting into healthier living and even exercise. Great!

Overall, it is a great and rewarding experience to raise a daughter, though sometimes challenging. The key with my boys was always communication, and I know that this will work with a teenage daughter too. I am learning though that the way to communicate with her is very different though. It really is true. “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus.”

Contributed by Marian in Dallas.

Have You Had the Beauty Talk

If you don’t talk to your daughter about the manipulation of models in the beauty industry, you may be leaving her believing that the pictures she sees in magazines, on billboards etc. are real. Most of us know that the models are manipulated by computer imaging to create gorgeous faces and bodies.  You should have a talk about the beauty industry when you daughter is young, and keep reinforcing the message through her teen years.

The beauty industry wants girls to believe that they need to buy products in order to achieve the unachievable! In doing so, the beauty industry hurts our girls self-respect and self-confidence.

If you haven’t discussed the beauty industry with your daughter, please start soon. Let her know that she does not have to look like the girls the media portrays as beautiful.

In my book, “The Secrets Guys Wish You Knew About Love,” guys tell girls that what is most important to them is NOT how a girl looks, but rather how she acts. 98% of the guys said they would rather be with a good listener than a hottie.  But beauty companies can’t sell girls what they already have inside of themselves, the ability to care and connect.

Help your daughter feel good about her true beauty, her true self. Talk to her about the media brainwashing. Ask her how she feels about it.

Dont Get a Divorce

Raising teens can put a strain on a relationship in ways we don’t think about. Mom’s are often going through their own hormonal shifts as their daughters ride the estrogen roller coaster. Mom’s are beginning to see gray hairs, wrinkles and feel a glimmer of “OMG! I’m turning into my….MOTHER!” while their perky daughter attract guys like bees to the blossoms. It’s a part of parenting we rarely talk about, but hey, IT’S THERE! Dad’s have their own emotional  hoops to jump through as young men begin courting their daughters. Dad’s realize they aren’t the strapping young bucks they used to be. Add these emotional blips to differences in parenting styles, years of being together and perhaps a stale relationship and you’ve got breeding grounds for one of you saying, “I want out!” I beg you to reconsider.

Your daughter needs you now. The teen years are really tough. If you divorce she has that trauma to deal with. I urge you to seek counseling to see if you can save your marriage. If you understand some of the dynamics going on, you might have a chance to breathe life back into your relationship. Remember you once loved your spouse enough to marry them. What needs to change in order for you to find that spark again?

The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Sure, there are a million people on Match. com but blending a family at mid-life isn’t easy. It may be harder than flaming the flames back into your marriage.

Of course, if your marriage is abusive, you may need to exit. I’m just saying, don’t let the mid years of your life, juxtaposed next to the youth of your daughter’s life, get in the way of working on salvaging your marriage.

I have taken enormous pride in my work and sacrifice as a mother to my four children.  I have made many mistakes, as we all have. I regret deeply not being able to salvage my own marriage so many years ago. This is one time when I ask you to do as I say, not do as I did!

Need to talk about your relationship? I’m a great listener.

Hang in there. Get counseling. Get more if the it doesn’t work right away. Keep talking, listening and loving each other as best as you can.