I was reading the news the other day and, to my surprise, I learned that when my 17-year-old son acts like an imbecile it’s not his fault. It’s biology.
This was actually kind of a relief to me, but you’ll pardon me if I don’t share this information with him. Lord knows what sort of behavior he’d try to excuse with it.
The latest research into the teen brain reports that they may not be able to help acting out like they do. It seems this is due to the dramatic changes in their rapidly developing brains. (Scientists are working under the assumption here that our teens’ brains are developing.)
James Chattra — a pediatrician practicing in Redmond, Wash. — says that at about age 12, the brain begins a massive shift in the prefrontal cortex, or the “thinking” part of the brain.
“It’s going through this amazing pruning and rewiring and shift. But because of that, sometimes the prefrontal cortex that allows us to take a break, stop and think, is not working as well,” Chattra says.
About half of the “thinking” neurons in certain regions of the brain, Chattra says, are literally “wiped out.”
The story talks a lot about “drama overload,” but since my teen is a boy, I don’t really deal with much drama. That would include his having to actually talk to me. I’m drawing my own conclusion that the shutting down of the “thinking” neurons results in an overload of drama in teenage girls and in really, really dumb behavior for teen boys.
Chattra doesn’t say in the article when exactly we can expect these “thinking neurons” to kick back up again. I’m here to tell you that it ain’t by 17.
So when my son goes four-wheeling in the mud and ruins a pair of $80 Sperry topsiders, it’s not his fault — it’s biology. And when he leaves wet swimsuits and towels in the trunk of his car for weeks on end, he’s not to blame — his thinking neurons were shut down. And when his friend tries to cook a frozen pizza on my plastic cutting board…well, you get the picture.
But if the developing teen brain explains boneheaded moves like this, we can only assume that biology may not step up to the plate when our boys are faced with really important decisions, like, “I wonder if I should get a ride home with Alex, even though he had a couple beers tonight?” Or “Man, this girl is hot! I wonder if she’ll get pregnant if I don’t have a condom?” So while the article focuses on the importance of parents remaining calm when the teen brain takes over, I’d like to throw out my own suggestion: Repetition.
The way I see it, the only way I can even hope that the neurons are going to kick in when it really matters is if I’ve drilled that shit so deep into his head that he can’t escape it. So every single time he goes out for the night, I remind him, “No drinking and driving.” And when he texts me to say that they’re going to Ethan’s birthday party and then he’s going to spend the night with Jordan, I text back, “You can’t drive to Jordan’s if you drink at Ethan’s.” And he rolls his eyes at me and texts back, “I NO MOM” which is how kids spell “know” these days.
Maybe he gets tired of hearing it and maybe they all make fun of me behind my back but I don’t care. I’m fighting biology here and I’m determined to keep my kid safe. Thinking neurons or not.
Does the news of this report help you to make more sense of your teen’s behavior? How do you counteract the drama overload and/or bonehead behaviors?
Kalisa blogs about fashion and teen parenting at I’ll Be the One in Heels. Her son, Elijah, dresses well but still refuses to friend her on Facebook.