Teeny teen brains

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When your kids are littlies and they try to stick their fingers in an electric socket or yank a pot plant off a table, saying ‘No!’ comes easy. It’s an instinctive response to a potentially dangerous situation.

When your kids are a little older – say, between 6 and 12 – and you tell them ‘no’, they might grumble a bit (even if it’s to themselves, in the privacy of their bedroom), but they know you’re still the boss, and that what you say goes.

Then your kids become teenagers, and every time you say ‘no’, they respond with, ‘Why?’ And here’s the thing: no matter what your reason or how good it is, there’s always another ‘why?’ lying in wait somewhere down the line.

‘Mom, can I go to the all-night trance party on Friday?’
‘No.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I don’t think you’re old enough yet.’
‘I’m almost 16! Why are you ruining my life?!’
‘You’re 15. And aside from anything else, I don’t want you driving in cars with boys.’
‘I’m 16 in 10 months’ time! And Henk has got his licence!’
‘He’s got his learner’s, not his driver’s. There’s always alcohol and drugs at trance parties and I don’t think you’re old enough to handle that.’
‘But everyone else’s mothers are letting them go!’
‘I’m not everyone else’s mother; I’m your mother.’
‘But why? Why? Why can’t I go?’
‘Because I’m your mother and I said so.’

And there it is: the thing that, when I was a teenager myself and my parents told me ‘no’ for the outrageously unarguable reason that they were my parents, I swore I’d never say to my children.

Teens aren’t known for their brilliant decision-making capabilities. Science has long put this and their mercurial mood swings down to raging sex hormones, but recent studies have shown something very interesting about the development of the brain: among the last parts of our grey matter to mature, when we’re in our early 20s, is an area at the very front of the frontal lobe, one that’s involved in control of impulses, judgement and decision-making.

So what it comes down to is that while your teens may physically resemble adults, what’s going on in those heads of theirs is in no way measured or sensible. Which is why they do still need their parents to say ‘no’ now and again. And why ‘because I’m your mother and I said so’ will be around as long as there are teenagers.

Are teens’ brains not fully mature? Or should they fall in line anyway just because you’re the parent?


Read more by Tracey Hawthorne
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