The Teenage Brain: A Teacher's Guide To Why They Do Stupid Things

The teenage brain- what is up with that? One minute they are demanding to be treated just like adults and the next minute they act like 3-year-olds. For example: I had a senior in my class who walked in one morning absolutely lived with anger at his mother. Her crime: She left for work with his backpack in the back seat of her car. It was her fault that he did not have his homework. I agreed with him and commented, tongue-in-cheek, "Wow! That was really mean of your mom to come into your room, take your backpack, put it in the back seat of her car and drive away." He just gave me a blank stare. This was a 6 'football player with a beard who considered himself an adult but was blaming mommy for his carelessness. To him this seemed perfectly valid. Examples like this are not at all uncommon. The behaviors of teens can fluctuate wildly in a short amount of time.

I think teens are funny, exasperating, cute, erratic, frustrating and baffling. However, it really does help to have some basic understanding of how the teen brain differs from the adult brain in key areas.

When a teenage student has done something incredibly stupid your response is usually to ask, "What were you thinking ? Their response is often "I do not know." While this is not the response you were hoping for, it's important to be aware that this answer is probably a completely honest one. They truly do not know why they do many of the things they do, especially the really stupid actions. The closest response they can come up with is often "It seemed like a good idea at the time" or "It seemed like a fun thing to do." Why do they often exhibit such poor reasoning skills? Underdeveloped frontal lobes are a huge factor.

Underdeveloped frontal lobes: Although they look like grownups, physically the teen brain is far removed from the adult brain. Development of the teenage brain will not be completely finished until they are well into their 20s. The frontal lobes are the center of higher-level thinking skills such as judgment, decision-making and recognizing the connection between potential actions and future consequences. In adults they act to keep us out of trouble. For instance: your boss will not give you the day off to go to your niece's graduation. You are angry but you do not say anything to him. That's because your frontal lobes say, "Hey, I know you're mad at this guy but if you say what might get fired."

The teen brain does not have that strong voice saying "This is why you should not do that." That's why a student who is angry might push you or tell you to "f … off." Later they are sorry but they could not control their behavior at the time. This does not mean that they should get by with this kind of behavior. It does mean that you need to keep in mind that they can be lacking in self-control. Approach your consequences for their behavior with this in mind.

Teenage brain development is a much more important factor in adolescent behavior and decision-making than we have previously acknowledged. This illustrates that parents and teachers both need to continue providing guidance to teens even after they are 6 'tall and look like grownups on the outside.

Watch forcoming articles in the Teenage Brain series.