You may have heard that the teen brain is going through some major developments. In fact, between the ages of 12 and 25 your gray matter is doing some pretty major, fascinating stuff. Without getting into 5 syllable words, it boils down to this: you don’t think about risk the same as adults do. Not huge news, right? Well, keep reading. It gets pretty interesting.
Those brain regions used to spot errors, plan and stay focused still have the construction signs hung on them. These regions help someone resist temptation – like NOT looking at that text while you’re driving. The good news is, you can develop skills for using this region. The more you resist looking at the text, the more you train that part to resist that temptation when you need to most, like behind the wheel. Pretty nifty.
Another part of the brain that is majorly different than an adults is impulse. The part of the brain that loves taking risk – the thrill seeker – peaks at around 15. There are a couple of chemicals – dopamine (call this the gas), which stimulates needs and desires for excitement, and serotonin (the brakes), which alerts the body to risk and sometimes makes you take defensive actions, like running from danger. Being heavy on the gas and low on the brakes can make for very dangerous situations, especially when you add inexperience behind the wheel and other dangers – like nighttime driving or risking drinking then driving.
Another aspect of risk-taking is teens weigh risks versus rewards very differently. You value the reward more heavily than older folks, especially if it’s something you really want. This reward mentality makes your decisions for you many times. Even if it seems right at the time, remember it may be the dopamine talking! And that dopamine can make you do crazy things. Slow down and think seriously about what a risk can mean. If it places you in danger, ask a trusted adult to help you talk to your dopamine.
The most powerful defense is knowledge. Now you KNOW, so what are you going to do about it? Talk to your parents and friends and let them know what’s going on in that head of yours. And, be patient. You’re brain is working hard. Treat it nicely.
From Under Your Influence September 2012 newsletter.