Crazy Facts Every Parent Should Know About the Teenage Brain

Teenagers are notorious for their impulsive behavior, poor decision-making, and rebellious tendencies. It turns out your adolescent doesn’t actually mean to stress you out when they miss their curfew. If you’re going to blame anything, blame their brain. It has yet to fully mature, which should explain why everyone under the age of 25 seems to live in a completely different world. Here’s what’s going on inside your teen’s head.

Teens make decisions with their emotions

A group of teenagers watching a movie.

Teens often follow their emotions and hearts. | LightFieldStudios/iStock

While you might blame hormones for your teen’s mood swings,┬áDr. Frances Jensen told HuffPost it’s much more complicated than that. There’s an imbalance between a teen’s frontal lobe and limbic system — which control decision-making and emotions, respectively. Hormone surges take some getting used to, but the reason teens can’t seem to make responsible decisions or control their emotions is because they simply can’t yet. Their brains aren’t mature enough to separate the two.

They can’t help but act impulsively

Young teens playing videogames outdoors.

Your teen might be dealing with more than you can imagine. | Oneinchpunch/iStock/Getty Images

As you can probably guess, teenagers are impulsive because they have less control over their emotions. You can blame their current stage of brain development for this, though, research suggests. In social situations especially, emotions drive many of their decisions. In the moment, they’re much more likely to impulsively agree to something and take risks without thinking them through.

They’re just starting to realize others might be judging them

Teenagers sitting together on a bench.

You remember peer pressure being tough, don’t you? | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

According to Live Science, for the first time, teenagers begin to realize their peers might be watching them. Self-consciousness might have something to do with their prefrontal cortex, one of the final parts of the body to develop and mature. The more they’re evaluated, the more they tend to react with embarrassment, or similar emotions. Peer pressure is a problem no matter your age, but teens struggle with it the most. Their brains just aren’t equipped to handle it properly.

They’re risk takers because they don’t know any better

A young girl sits outside while looking down at the floor.

They might be too young to understand that their actions have long-term consequences. | Margotpics/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Washington Post says teens’ underdeveloped prefrontal cortex makes them engage in more risky behaviors than adults typically do. This part of the brain controls a person’s ability to reason. A teen doesn’t think their behaviors have consequences because they don’t usually consider all possible outcomes of their actions before they do something. While risk-taking can induce a sense of thrill, that’s not always a bad thing. Teenagers just haven’t learned how to assess how dangerous their risks might actually be.

They’re anxiously self-centered

A young girl looks anxiously at a computer.

To teenagers, small problems can feel like the end of the world. | Antonio Guillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The good news is, your teenager probably isn’t a narcissist. According to the American Psychological Association, most teenagers harbor some feelings of social anxiety. They don’t want to stand out in the wrong way or have the wrong kind of attention drawn to them. So if they seem to focus primarily on themselves, that’s just them worrying about how others perceive them. Guess which part of the brain is responsible for this? It’s the prefrontal cortex … again.

A teen’s brain is still developing — it’s going to take awhile

A mother and teenage girl sit together on the couch looking at a computer.

They actually do want your support. | Bowdenimages/iStock/Getty Images

According to Forbes, a person’s brain seems to fully mature on average around the age of 25. That’s when you start looking back on the dumb stuff you did in high school, and probably for the first time, feel super old. Your teen will get there. It won’t happen anytime soon — so don’t expect them to wake up one morning and suddenly start behaving like an adult. They still have a lot of growing up to do.

How to talk to your teen (the right way)

Portrait of joyful teen girl standing in the sun.

Try not to be so hard on them, peer pressure and high school can be stressful. | Martinan/iStock/Getty Images

Teens need room to explore and discover. That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to talk with (not at) them. However, when you do, Psych Central recommends listening first, talking second. Respect your teen’s privacy and any information they share with you in confidence. Communicating with teenagers should be a discussion, not a lecture. And don’t forget to praise them when they do something well. Remember, they’re sensitive and concerned about what others think of them. Give them some much-needed confidence.